CDC Is Isolating Travelers Legally Entering U.S. from Mexico If They Show Signs of Swine Flu

By Matt Cover | April 29, 2009 | 6:51 PM EDT

( – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is holding in voluntary "isolation" travelers seeking to legally enter the United States from Mexico at an official port of entry if they exhibit swine-flu-like symptoms, according to a CDC spokesman.
A report issued by the CDC on Tuesday said that nine travelers seeking to enter the U.S. from Mexico had been put in "isolation" until it could be determined whether or not they had swine flu. 

On Wednesday, the CDC said three of those nine were still in isolation while tests are being conducted to see if they are in fact infected with the influenza virus. CDC spokesman Shelley Diaz said that number could change as the outbreak spreads.
“They’re (CDC) seeing people. If they have flu-like symptoms, they’re sending them for evaluation at medical facilities,” Diaz told “If the symptoms are consistent with swine flu, they’re asking them to isolate themselves voluntarily at home, pending the results of the tests.
“The situation’s in flux--with people coming and going, the number changes. We’ve (still) got people coming through; this is very fluid right now,” she added.
Diaz also said that people could be isolated in a hotel room, presumably near the airport or border station where they entered.
“They could be isolated in a hotel room too, they’re being asked to self-isolate,” she explained. She did not know if anyone was being kept in a hospital.
“During April 19-27, 15 cases of illness in travelers entering the United States from Mexico that were clinically consistent with S-OIV (swine flu) were detected,” said a CDC report issued Tuesday. 
“Of these 15 cases, two were laboratory confirmed swine-origin influenza A (H1N1). Nine travelers remain in isolation pending completion of evaluation, and four travelers were released to complete travel after influenza virus infection was ruled out.”
Diaz could not say whether the two known swine flu patients it intercepted from Mexico had been released, deported, or remained hospitalized in the U.S. She also could not confirm the whereabouts of the six people previously under isolation.
CDC routinely screens visitors entering the U.S. for various infectious diseases, including influenza, and can detain anyone who appears to be infected.
"Isolation" is typically used on infected persons to prevent a disease from spreading. However, the CDC report said that nine of the 15 were still awaiting evaluation to see if they were infected--a process which takes approximately 48 hours.

Under normal procedures, the CDC asks a person seeking to enter the U.S. who it suspects is infected to remain isolated in a local hospital while it tests for the disease. If CDC confirms the person is infected, it can keep them isolated in the hospital until they recover or are no longer contagious. Usually, isolation is done voluntarily, and it can be done at a patient’s home in certain cases.
The CDC used voluntary isolation during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). At that time, the agency did not issue any compulsory isolation orders demanding that patients remain in hospitals.
In the case of the 2003 SARS outbreak, the most serious cases were voluntarily isolated in hospitals while milder cases were allowed to remain at home for 10 days after they stopped exhibited symptoms.
Currently, the federal government is passively screening everyone entering the U.S. from areas where swine flu has been reported. According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, this means observing travelers for flu-like symptoms and asking them if they feel sick. If they do present symptoms, they will be isolated, Napolitano said.
“All persons entering the United States from a location of human infection of swine flu will be processed through all appropriate CBP (Customs and Border Protection) protocols,” she said at a Sunday press briefing.
“Travelers who do present with symptoms, if and when encountered, will be isolated,” Napolitano explained.
If the outbreak worsens, more customs agents can be deployed to the border to aid in the screenings.
“And if and when the situation develops, all CBP sites can implement--and we can deploy--additional personnel to the borders.”
CDC has issued a travel advisory warning that Americans should avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico.