A patient in Seattle has been confirmed as the first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreak of the deadly virus originated in Wuhan, China, where it killed six people and infected hundreds in recent weeks.
Following a January 20 advisory from Chinese public health officials, the world learned that the lethal virus can spread from person to person, a determinant that increases concerns of a potential international epidemic. U.S. airports are ramping up health screenings in light of this information.
While it’s still unknown how the virus spreads between humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it would form an emergency committee in Geneva to determine whether to announce a public health emergency.
Although the human-to-human spread of COVID-19 increases health concerns, the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases stated that the risk “to the American public at large remains low at this time.”
A man in Seattle believed to be in his 30s was diagnosed after a consultation with his doctor for respiratory symptoms. He had returned last week from Wuhan, and is reportedly no longer “clinically ill.”
COVID-19 belongs to the same family of viruses that include severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. It was first detected in central China, in the city of Wuhan, where people experienced pneumonia-like symptoms after visiting a wildlife trade and wet market.
Dr. Zhong Nanshan made an official statement on Chinese state television on January 20, explaining that at least two patients who had never visited Wuhan had been infected by family members who had traveled to the city.
Scientists are still studying the extent of the danger posed by the novel coronavirus. According to Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, most of those who have died from the virus had preexisting health issues.
“Can a sick person easily transmit the disease when they’re out in the community? Or can it only be transmitted in risky situations, for example, when a health care worker is caring for a patient and their personal protective equipment fails?,” asks Nuzzo, highlighting how unclear the transmission of the disease is.
She also noted that experts need more details about newer cases not directly linked to the Wuhan wet market as thorough patient histories can aid in tracking the source of the infection.
The CDC announced that passengers arriving on connecting or direct flights from Wuhan would pass through a tube via international airports that conduct public health screenings. These airports include Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, and Chicago. COVID-19 cases have also been reported in people who had traveled from China to Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Airports in Canada and Russian are also screening some arriving passengers.
If the WHO declares the novel coronavirus a global health emergency, the international health agency may recommend travel restrictions.