U.S. has its first confirmed case of the coronavirus — here’s what you need to know

Rachel Grumman Bender
·5 min read

The Wuhan coronavirus — a respiratory illness spreading in China, where it has infected more than 200 people and killed at least six people — is now in the U.S.

A man in his 30s — who is a U.S. resident and had recently traveled from Wuhan, China, to his home in Washington State’s Snohomish County — is the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the states.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) press briefing on Tuesday, the man did not experience symptoms while traveling home on January 15. On January 19, however, he was feeling ill and, aware of reports of the coronavirus in China where he had just visited, the man proactively sought medical help. The sample he provided, which was sent overnight to the CDC for testing, came back positive for the virus. The man was transferred to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., last night, and is currently in isolation.

“The risk to the general public is low,” Chris Spitters, MD, the interim health officer for Washington’s Snohomish Health District, said at the CDC press conference Tuesday. “No one wants to be the first in the nation in these types of situations, but these are the types of situations that the public health prepares for.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 200 people in China and killed at least six people. The first case of coronavirus in the U.S. has been confirmed by the CDC. (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
The coronavirus has infected more than 200 people in China and killed at least six people. The first case of coronavirus in the U.S. has been confirmed by the CDC. (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The CDC has assigned people to work on tracing the man’s travel route, as well as anyone he may have come into contact with, from China to his home state.

“There is new information hour by hour, day by day that we are tracking and following closely,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said at the conference. “We and the global health community are working together to understand what is happening. The key issue we need to understand is how easily the virus is spread from human to human.”

Spitters added that the man is in “good condition” and is “currently hospitalized out of an abundance of caution — not because there was severe illness.”

What are coronaviruses?

There are seven known types of coronaviruses. The current Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) — named after the city where it originated — is a new (novel) form of coronavirus that’s been linked to a large seafood and animal market in that town. The virus was first reported to the World Health Organization’s China country office on December 31, 2019. There have also been reported cases in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.

But there may be many more people infected than the 200 cases currently being reported, according to a new study out of Imperial College London. The study’s researchers estimate that a total of 1,723 cases of the virus had symptom onset by January 12, 2020. “It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported,” wrote the study authors.

Air travel also contributes to the spread of the virus. “Worldwide travel can mean these viruses are transmitted further and faster than before,” Lisa Maragakis, MD, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

The viruses typically cause “mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold,” according to the CDC. People who become infected can experience a runny nose, cough, fever, headache, and sore throat. In severe cases, the viruses can cause pneumonia or bronchitis and can be fatal.

Coronaviruses are spread in several ways: through the air, such as by coughing and sneezing; through close contact with an infected person, such as touching or shaking hands; and by touching an object or surface (such as a doorknob or table) with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands, according to the CDC.

To check for a coronavirus infection, healthcare providers can test respiratory specimens and blood serum, according to the CDC. Currently, there is no vaccine for coronaviruses — though Messonnier said that there are “active conversations about vaccines, as well as diagnostics” for the virus — and no specific treatment regimen.

“Respiratory viruses, particularly those that are new and somewhat unknown, are concerning to everyone,” Maragakis tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s important to note that you should be vigilant and somewhat concerned, but not panicked.”

Maragakis recommends that people wash their hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and not go into work when they’re sick to help protect others.

To help prevent more cases from entering the U.S., the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have stepped up health entry screening efforts at three U.S. airports (San Francisco airport, New York’s JFK, and Los Angeles airport) — with Atlanta and Chicago (ORD) airports adding screenings this week — to check passengers traveling from Wuhan, China, to the U.S. for symptoms. According to Tuesday’s CDC briefing, those passengers traveling from Wuhan, China, will be rerouted to U.S. airports performing health entry screenings.

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