U.S. health officials, using the excuse that they need to protect Americans from bird flu and other diseases, are proposing regulations that will require airlines and shipping firms to hand over passenger and crew lists on demand and expand how they report serious illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who have proposed the overhaul, the new changes will apparently apply to planes and ships arriving from outside the United States as well as some domestic flights.
The CDC is a federal agency responsible for monitoring and responding to health threats, and it says it also wants the authority to vaccinate and treat quarantined people along with a clear set of defined legal rights for those who are quarantined.
The agency says that the quarantine powers would only be used in situations where a person posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request to be isolated.
Airline pilots and ship captains would only be required to report passengers or crew who showed symptoms of certain serious infectious diseases, such as cholera, yellow fever and SARS.
Dr. Martin Centron, director of the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, says they are not talking about quarantining anybody for a sniffle or a cough.
The proposals come amid growing concern around the world over the spread of bird flu from Asia.
The virus cannot yet easily infect people, but it has killed at least 67 people in five Asian nations since late 2003.
However bird flu has yet to surface in the United States.
Apparently the CDC does not want to wait until emerging infections take root before plugging what it sees as gaps in the regulations governing control of communicable diseases.
It seems these rules have not been substantially revised for 25 years.
The agency appears to have learned a lesson during the SARS outbreak of 2003 when problems getting passenger information from airlines hampered efforts to trace the contacts of those who had been infected.
One of its new proposals, which will be open to public comment for two months, calls for airlines and cruise lines to submit passenger and crew lists electronically at its request.