In a news conference Tuesday, Washington state health officials said the man, who is in his 30s, recently traveled to Wuhan in central China, where health officials believe the outbreak started in a fresh food market. However, Washington state officials said the patient did not go to any of the markets in question or interact with any infected individuals. He came back to Snohomish County, which is north of Seattle, Jan. 15, two days before the CDC began screenings at three US airports.
Washington state health officials said the man is in good condition at a hospital outside Seattle, where he is in isolation following standard protocols. Now, officials are focusing on alerting any people with whom he may have had contact.
Officials said he had no symptoms when he arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, but he contacted doctors on Sunday when he started feeling ill.
“We’re grateful that in this region in Washington state they were prepared for this contingency,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Washington state health officials affirmed that there is low risk to the public.
“No one wants to be the first in the nation for these types of situations, but these are the situations that public health officials prepare for,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for Snohomish County, Wa.
The new virus is only the seventh identified coronavirus that can infect humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of common coronaviruses include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. However, more severe coronaviruses can cause illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
According to the CDC, most coronaviruses infect animals, including camels and bats. Health officials aren’t sure why some coronaviruses are able to evolve to infect people.
The new virus, identified earlier this month, causes a pneumonia-like illness, the CDC said.
The U.S. is the fifth country to report seeing the illness, following China, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from central China at New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. Officials around the world have implemented similar airport screenings in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season.
Tuesday, the CDC announced that Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare airports would also begin screening travelers. The CDC said these airports see the highest volume of passengers coming from the Wuhan area to the US. According to the CDC, approximately 1,200 passengers have been screened for signs of illness since Friday. No passengers have been sent to the hospital as a result of these screenings.
Nearly 300 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in China, most of them in Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization.
The count includes six deaths – all in China, most of them age 60 or older, including at least some who had a previous medical condition.
Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people, but Monday, Chinese officials said they’ve concluded it also can spread from person to person.
In announcing the airport screenings last week, CDC officials said the risk to the American public was low but that it was likely the illness would appear in the U.S. at some point.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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