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Influenza may be cause of sickness for handful of crew, passengers on Emirates flight to JFK

NEW YORK  — About 10 people who were aboard an international flight that landed Wednesday at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport are being evaluated at a hospital and tested for respiratory illness, officials said.

The cause of the illness on Emirates Flight 203 is “probably influenza,” New York City acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot told reporters.

She said doctors will know more when they get the results of respiratory tests done on the three passengers and seven crew members late Wednesday.

About 106 of the more than 500 people on the flight, which originated in Dubai and landed just after 9 a.m., reported symptoms like coughing, fever or vomiting, she said.

All the passengers were screened by officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as were nine other people at the busy airport in the borough of Queens. Most passengers were cleared to continue their travels.

A CDC official familiar with the situation earlier told CNN that authorities looking into the cause of the illnesses were considering respiratory illnesses like influenza — and out of an abundance of caution, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, a viral respiratory disease first identified in 2012.

Musician turned home remodeling show star Vanilla Ice tweeted a video, apparently from the plane, with the caption: “So I just landed from Dubai and now there is like tons of ambulances and fire trucks and police all over the place.”

“The Vanilla Ice Project” host said the plane had two decks and the illnesses were in the lower cabin.

Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Rob Van Winkle, didn’t say whether he was cleared to travel again Wednesday.

One passenger told CNN from the plane that people were showing signs of illness while they were at the airport in Dubai.

“I asked the (flight attendant) for a mask before we even took off, but there was none available,” Erin Sykes said. “It was so obvious that a large number of people were ill well before takeoff.”

The nonstop flight was a smooth one, Sykes said, so she didn’t believe the ailments were related to turbulence or air sickness.

“People were coughing the whole time. Now some people have fevers over 100,” she said. “They should never had been allowed to board.”

The crew didn’t say anything about passengers being sick until about 30 minutes before the aircraft landed, she said during a later interview inside the airport.

“The captain did make an announcement and said, ‘We’re not going to be able to deplane right away because there’s been a couple people sick,’ but that was all the information we got,” Sykes said.

Passenger Larry Coben’s tweets documented ambulances converging on the tarmac, CDC forms that passengers were asked to complete, passengers disembarking and having their temperatures taken, and passengers then taking a bus to the terminal.

“Happy to report that I am through customs and on my way home,” Coben tweeted just after 11 a.m. ET.

Passenger Srinivasa Rao said that after filling out the forms, officials told them they would “track” the passengers to make sure they didn’t come down with any ailments in the next three weeks. While he was pleased with the response, he said he felt more should have been done to ensure passengers were healthy before boarding the flight.

“I’m very happy that they have taken such a great care,” he said. “I’m really surprised and I’m happy about it, but the most important point is they should have checked these people before they got onto the flight.”

The plane was taken to a “hard standing area,” where paramedics and officials from the CDC were responding to the scene, the Port Authority source said.

A statement from Jamaica Hospital Medical Center said the sick passengers suffered from coughing, headache, sore throat and fever.

“Passengers who are not ill will be allowed to continue with their travel plans, and if necessary will be followed up with by health officials,” the agency said.