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 in his 30s who lives in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, contracted the virus after visiting China, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday.
“We have now confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States,” Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.
Health officials in Washington said that the man is in strict isolation and that the threat to the public is still low. Officials said that they were able to detect the case early and that the man is in good health now.
Chris Spitters, the health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said the man is “currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution and for short-term monitoring, not because there was severe illness.”
The outbreak of the virus — known as the Wuhan virus, or 2019-nCoV — likely started at a seafood market in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. The man said that he did not visit the market and that he did not know anyone who was ill, Spitters added.
So far, the virus has infected an estimated 300 people and killed six, authorities said. It has also spread to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand.
The CDC said it expected additional cases to appear in the US.
The cases outside China have incited fears of a pandemic, as hundreds of millions of people travel for Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday and lasts until February 8.
Authorities are trying to stop the spread of the virus
Some people who have contracted the Wuhan virus reported symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches, and a sore throat. A few said they 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, 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, three US airports — New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport — were screening passengers for the virus. Two more, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, are set to roll out screenings as well. The CDC said passengers traveling to the US whose flights originated in Wuhan would be rerouted to one of these five airports.
Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea are also closely screening passengers.
Scott Lindquist, an epidemiologist in Washington, said the patient in the US likely began traveling before the US airport screenings were instated on Friday. He landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The man did not exhibit any symptoms while traveling, Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman told reporters.
On Sunday, China’s National Health Commission said it would “step up our guard” during the upcoming New Year 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 said it would meet on Wednesday to decide whether the virus constitutes a public-health emergency of international concern.
“The key issue that we really all need to understand is how easily or sustainably the virus is spread from human to human,” Messonnier said. “That’s information that we don’t completely have nailed down yet, but we’re continuing to work globally with all our partners to better understand it.”
Of the case in the US, she added, “We are grateful that the patient is doing well.”