By Jay Kumar
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today confirmed the first U.S. case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Washington state. According to a CDC press release, the patient recently returned from Wuhan, China, where a pneumonia outbreak caused by this coronavirus has been underway since December 2019. There are close to 300 confirmed cases in China with several deaths reported.
The virus was originally believed to spread from animal to person, but the CDC says there are signs that limited person-to-person infection is happening. Scientists are unclear about how the virus spreads between people.
The patient is a Washington resident who returned to the U.S. from China on January 15 and sought care at a medical facility in Washington. Based on the patient’s travel history and symptoms, healthcare professionals suspected the new coronavirus. A specimen was collected and sent to the CDC, where laboratory testing confirmed the diagnosis.
The CDC said it has been preparing for the U.S. arrival of 2019-nCoV for weeks, including:
- Alerting clinicians on January 8 to be on the lookout for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan, China.
- Developing guidance for clinicians for testing and management of 2019-nCoV, as well as guidance for home care of patients with 2019-nCoV.
- Developing a diagnostic test to detect this virus in clinical specimens, accelerating the time it takes to detect infection. Currently, testing for this virus must take place at the CDC, but in the coming days and weeks, the CDC will share these tests with domestic and international partners.
- On January 17, the CDC began implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports. This week, the agency will add entry health screening at Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD) airports.
- The CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the 2019-nCoV response.
The agency is working closely with the state of Washington and local partners. A CDC team has been deployed to support the ongoing investigation in the state of Washington, including potentially tracing close contacts to determine if anyone else has become ill.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing respiratory illness in people and others circulating among animals including camels, cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people, such as has been seen with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). When person-to-person spread has occurred with SARS and MERS, it is thought to happen via respiratory droplets with close contacts, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
The SARS outbreak in southern China from November 2002 to July 2003 caused more than 8,000 cases and eventually led to 774 deaths in 37 countries; this included 44 deaths in Canada. There were 27 SARS cases in the U.S. but no deaths.
The CDC said the situation with regard to 2019-nCoV is still unclear. While severe illness, including illness resulting in several deaths, has been reported in China, other patients have had milder illness and been discharged. Symptoms associated with this virus have included fever, cough and trouble breathing. The confirmation that some limited person-to-person spread with this virus is occurring in Asia raises the level of concern about this virus, but the CDC said the risk of 2019-nCoV to the American public at large remains low at this time.