Coronavirus Lands in the U.S.

January 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first confirmed case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the U.S. in Washington (state). The patient recently returned from Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of pneumonia caused by this novel coronavirus has been ongoing since December 2019. The CDC says that initially the virus was believed to be spreading from animal-to-person; however, there are growing indications that limited person-to-person spread is happening somehow.

The patient returned to the U.S. from Wuhan on Jan. 15, and sought care at a medical facility in Washington. Based on the patient’s travel history and symptoms, healthcare professionals suspected this new coronavirus and CDC laboratory testing confirmed the diagnosis via CDC’s Real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) test.

The CDC has developed interim guidance for healthcare professionals to help with the evaluation of patients who may be at high risk of exposure to and transmission of the virus.  A CDC health update provides recommendations for healthcare providers, information on specimen collection and reporting and infection control precautions.

On Jan. 17, the CDC began implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports. This week, the CDC will add entry health screenings at Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD) airports. The CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the 2019-nCoV response.

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 CDC continues to believe the risk of 2019-nCoV to the American public at large remains low at this time.

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 situation with regard to 2019-nCoV is still unclear.

A CDC travel alert is available here. Information from the World Health Organization on the Coronavirus is available here. Information on the virus from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health is available here.