Sick passengers on flight from Dubai have flu, health department says

The 10 patients are expected to be released from the hospital soon.

The illness that sickened several people on a flight from Dubai to New York City Wednesday was confirmed to be the flu, the city’s health department said.

Seven crew members and three passengers were hospitalized after Emirates Flight 203 landed at Kennedy Airport shortly after 9 a.m. Nine others who felt sick refused medical attention, and the rest of the 521 people on board were cleared after the plane was quarantined for hours on the tarmac.

“A majority of the tests showed common viruses such as influenza and the common cold,” the health department said in a statement Thursday morning. Tests for other viruses were initially inconclusive, prompting a round of re-testing Thursday afternoon, the results of which confirmed the diagnosis of flu and cold.

“We expect all 10 people to be released from the hospital soon,” the health department said.

Passengers on the double-decker airplane, which had been in the air traveling 7,000 miles for some 14 hours, said some people were coughing and vomiting and some had a fever.

“It was like a plane from hell,” passenger Zeph Shamba, who was visiting from Zimbabwe, said after being allowed off the plane. “We were just told a couple of passengers weren’t feeling well so … we are going to be quarantined, so we were all worried.”

Initial reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as many as 100 people on the flight were feeling ill.

Some of the sick passengers could have come from Mecca, where there is an influenza outbreak, mayoral press secretary Eric Phillips had said Wednesday. The flight was about two weeks after the end of the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Viruses like the flu can spread at large gatherings like the Hajj, acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

“It’s not out of the question that individuals attending a large event could have contracted influenza — there is influenza in the Arabian Peninsula — and then transmitted it on this flight,” she said.

There wasn’t a concern that a similar situation will happen on other flights, Barbot said.

With Lisa L. Colangelo and Newsday

Nicole Brown