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Plane lands at JFK with dozens of sick passengers.
AP

With hundreds of passengers on Emirates Flight 203 from Dubai to New York off the plane and evaluated, health officials will try to pinpoint the cause of the illness that sent 10 passengers to the hospital and left dozens of other passengers reportedly feeling sick.

The investigation of what went wrong will involve the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state, local and airport officials. 

Officials will zero in on passengers on the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet who got sick as well as those who didn’t to try to determine the source of the illness, according to Dr. Robert Amler,  dean of New York Medical College’s School of Health Sciences and Practice and a former CDC chief medical officer and New York Regional Health Administrator.  

MOREEmirates plane briefly quarantined at JFK airport after 19 passengers are deemed sick

“This is really medical detective work,” he said.

Among the questions that will be asked, Amler said:

  • Were the passengers who went to the hospital seated in a particular section of the plane or spread throughout the plane? 
  • What did the affected passengers eat on the plane?
  • At what point in the long flight did they get sick? And did they all get sick at once or was it gradual?

“In a disease investigation of any kind, you begin with trying to say what is common on the sick and still was rare among the well?” Amler said.

IN PICTURES: Emirates flight quarantined at John F. Kennedy airport (story continues below)

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The early signs point to flu symptoms, according to a spokesman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The CDC reported that many passengers complained of cough and fever.

Investigators will pay special attention, of course, to test results from passengers who ended up in the hospital. The airline identified three passengers and seven crew members sick enough to be sent to the hospital. The mayor’s office said it identified 19 ill passengers, with nine refusing medical attention.

 

“The results of those tests can also be very, very helpful,” Amler said. “Is this some kind of infection? Is this some kind of toxic exposure to some chemical in the plane? Could this be some kind of mold exposure, or some other kind of food or water borne exposure?”

The good news, Amler said, is that officials are trained on how to investigate these situations. There are regular drills.

 “This kind of scenario is a well rehearsed one,” he said. “Every member of the team is going to know what their expectations are.”

Amler said the investigation is not likely to drag on.

“Typically after a few days they should be getting their arms around at least the most likely scenario,” he said.

After Flight 203 landed, the plane was taken to a  location away from the terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to a statement from the CDC.  Medical personnel from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  boarded the aircraft to evaluate the situation and provided immediate assistance before passengers deplaned and were processed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

By early Wednesday afternoon, Emirates had its A380 back and announced a three-hour delay on the return flight to Dubai.

The CDC said it will provide updates as they become available.

IN PICTURES: The world’s Airbus A380 fleet 

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