Citing a need to protect Americans from bird flu and other diseases, the US health officials propose regulatory changes requiring airlines and shipping firms to hand over passenger and crew lists on demand and expand how they report serious illnesses.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency responsible for monitoring and responding to health threats, has proposed the regulatory overhaul. The CDC said the changes would apply to planes and ships arriving from outside the United States as well as some domestic flights.
The CDC wanted authority to vaccinate and treat quarantined people and a clear set of defined legal rights for those quarantined. It noted that the quarantine powers would generally only be used in situations where a person posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request to be isolated.
In addition, pilots and ship captains would only be required to report passengers or crew who showed symptoms of certain serious infectious diseases, such as cholera, yellow fever and SARS.
The proposals are prompted by the growing concern around the world over the spread of bird flu from Asia. The virus cannot yet easily infect people, but it has killed at least 67 people in five Asian nations since late 2003.
Bird flu is yet to surface in the United States. The CDC, however, does not want to wait until emerging infections take root before plugging the gaps in the regulations governing control of communicable diseases. These rules have not been substantially revised for 25 years.
The CDC has learnt its lessons during the SARS outbreak of 2003, when problems getting passenger information from airlines stymied its efforts to trace the contacts of those who had been infected.
One of its new proposals, which will be open to public comment for two months, calls for airlines and cruise lines to submit passenger and crew lists electronically at its request.