SEATTLE, WA — A new respiratory virus that has sickened hundreds in China and led to at least six deaths has been identified in a man living in Washington state, prompting the expansion of screening to additional U.S. airports and the establishment of a hotline for members of the public in Washington.
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Snohomish County health officials said Tuesday morning a man in his 30s was being treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. In a telephone briefing Tuesday morning, health officials said the man was in satisfactory condition but continues to receive supportive care and monitoring in isolation.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, health officials said the man, a permanent U.S. resident, was visiting his hometown and traveled alone. He showed no syptoms on the flight and checked into a Snohomish County health clinic the next day after developing a fever and cough.
Based on his recent travel, doctors collected samples and sent them to the CDC overnight, where laboratory testing quickly confirmed the illness. A CDC team was sent to Washington and is working to track down anyone else who had contact with the man. State and local health officials are working to screen all medical staff or patients that had any contact with the man.
The New York Times reports the outbreak was first identified last month in a seafood and poultry market in the city of Wuhan and later spread to Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese cities.
State health officials said the risk of exposure remains low for the general public, but all steps were being taken to fully assess the situation.
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“As our team of experts partners with infectious disease specialists locally, nationally and around the globe to learn more about the 2019 novel coronavirus, our first priority remains public safety,” said Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee reassured Washingtonians that all appropriate precautions were being taken to prevent the virus from spreading.
“This is not a moment for panic and anxiety — it’s a moment for vigilence,” Inslee said.
Information on how the virus behaves is minimal, and health officials are working to learn how easily it can spread from person to person. The CDC said the virus was originally thought to spread from animal-to-person but there are now “growing indications” of a limited spread from person-to-person.
An update posted on the CDC website Tuesday described an “emerging, rapidly evolving situation” and acknowledged there were many questions that still need to be answered.
“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate 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 MERS and SARS. Past MERS and SARS outbreaks have been complex, requiring comprehensive public health responses.
Many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China have reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting limited person-to-person spread is occurring.”
CDC staff began screening passengers who traveled through the Wuhan area at three major airports on Friday. Additional screening measures will expand to Chicago and Atlanta this week. Health officials said airlines have agreed to funnel all U.S.-bound flights originating from China to the five airports with additional screenings. No direct flights from China to Seattle will arrive while an investigation into the outbreak continues.
More than 300 cases of the virus have been confirmed worldwide.
Officials said they will share information on how members of the public can dial into the hotline with questions once it is established.
Learn more about the outbreak on the CDC website.