In a strategic move to bolster public health defenses, the CDC announced an expansion of its genomic surveillance program to encompass a wider array of respiratory viruses. Initiated in 2021 for the early identification of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, the program now extends its reach to influenza and RSV, particularly timely given the approach of the winter season when such viruses are more prevalent.
The surveillance program is active in seven key international airports, including Los Angeles, John F. Kennedy in New York, San Francisco, Boston Logan, Washington Dulles, Seattle, and Newark. These airports were chosen for their status as international hubs, receiving flights from numerous global locations, allowing for a comprehensive snapshot of worldwide viral activity.
Cindy Friedman, Chief of the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, emphasized the importance of early detection of concerning strains to inform global awareness and preparedness. The program’s methodology includes voluntary nasal swabbing of travelers and the analysis of airport wastewater.
With approximately 6,000 nasal swab samples collected weekly, around a third are tested for respiratory illnesses. This testing has been in place at two of the seven airports since October, and wastewater sampling commenced in November. While the specific airport locations for wastewater sampling were not disclosed, this data will contribute to the CDC’s understanding of viral spread.
The pilot phase of this expanded surveillance is set to last several months, aligning with the anticipated increase in respiratory diseases during the colder months. The CDC has projected that hospitalization rates for COVID-19, RSV, and flu could mirror the heightened figures seen in the previous year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
This expansion represents a collaboration between the CDC, biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks, and wellness holding company XWELL, showcasing a public-private partnership in action against the backdrop of ongoing public health challenges.