A mysterious virus that originated in China has spread to the United States: A case has been identified in Washington state.
Test results confirmed over the weekend that a man who lives in the US contracted the virus after visiting China, officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced on Tuesday.
“We have now confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.
Health officials in Washington state said the patient is under strict isolation and that the threat to the public is still low. The man is reportedly in good health now.
The viral outbreak likely started at a seafood market in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. So far, the virus — known as the Wuhan virus, or 2019-nCoV — has infected an estimated 300 people and killed six. It has also spread to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. Two cases have been recorded in Thailand, while each other country so far has one confirmed case.
The CDC said it expects additional cases to appear in the US.
Initially, Chinese officials thought the virus could only spread from animals to humans, but they later confirmed that humans can transmit the virus to one another.
The cases outside China have incited fears of a global epidemic, as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel for the Chinese New Year, which begins on Saturday and lasts until February 8.
Authorities are trying to stop the spread of the virus
Some patients who have contracted the Wuhan virus report symptoms such fever, chills, headaches, and sore throat. A few had difficulty breathing.
The virus belongs to the coronavirus family: a large group of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract. Coronaviruses can lead to illnesses like the common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a potentially fatal illness that hasn’t been reported anywhere since 2004.
A viral outbreak of SARS that started in China in November 2002 resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 deaths by July 2003. The outbreak spread to dozens of countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Recent research suggests that it may have spread to humans from horseshoe bats.
As of Tuesday, five US airports — New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport — are screening passengers for the virus.
Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea are also closely screening passengers for fever.
Washington state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist said the patient in the US likely began traveling before the US airport screenings were instated on January 17. The airport at which he landed — Seattle-Tacoma International — has not instated a screening policy yet.
The man did not exhibit any symptoms while traveling, Washington Secretary of Health Jon Wiesman told reporters.
On Sunday, China’s National Health Commission said it would “step up our guard” during the New Years celebrations and “pay close attention to the development and change of the epidemic.”
The virus, it added, is “still preventable and controllable.”
The World Health Organization will hold a meeting on Wednesday to decide whether the virus constitutes a public-health emergency of international concern.
“The key issue that we really need to understand is how quickly or easily the virus is spread from human to human,” Messonnier said.
Of the case in the US, she added: “We are grateful that the patient is doing well.”