Health officials confirm the first case of a novel Coronavirus in the US after an unnamed man returned from China, where an outbreak of pneumonia cases by the newly discovered virus has been ongoing since last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today.
The man sought care at a medical facility shortly after returning from Wuhan, China, on January 14. Healthcare professionals confirmed his diagnosis of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) based on his travel history, symptoms, and a specially designed laboratory test.
Originally thought to spread from animal-to-person, the CDC now says that there are “growing indications” that limited transmission between people is happening, although it is unclear to what degree.
“CDC 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,” writes the organization.
The CDC says that it has been “proactively preparing” for the introduction of the virus to the US and in recent weeks has developed clinical guidelines for testing and management. A diagnostic test to detect the virus can cut back on diagnosis time but must take place at a CDC facility – a limitation the agency plans to overcome by sharing tests with domestic and international partners. On January 17, the CDC began implementing public health screenings at some of the most high-traffic airports across the country, including San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles and plans to add Atlanta and Chicago to the list. Just yesterday, the Chinese government confirmed that the virus strain has infected nearly 300 people across parts of Asia.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that rarely go beyond animal cases to infect people. Rarer yet are cases where a virus will evolve beyond animal-to-human transmission to person-to-person, as were the cases during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012, according to the CDC.
“Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern. The risk from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including whether and how well it spreads between people, the severity of resulting illness, and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccine or treatment medications),” writes the CDC, adding that genomic sequencing of the virus will help to identify and prevent infections going forward.
SARS and MERS are believed to spread via respiratory droplets like influenza, but the exact cause of 2019-nCoV transmission remains unclear. Symptoms include fever, cough, trouble breathing, and a general feeling of being unwell. Though severe illness and deaths have been reported in China, the CDC notes that most cases have been discharged and maintains that the risk to the American public remains low at this time. The agency adds that this is a “rapidly evolving situation” and that the agency will continue to update the public “as circumstances warrant.”