The Centers for Disease Control announced the first confirmed case in the U.S. of a coronavirus that has set off alarm bells in health agencies around the world.
The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan province in China, has sickened hundreds of people and killed six so far.
No one is sure how the virus was first transmitted, but it apparently jumped from animals to humans sometime in December. Chinese officials confirm they’ve had their first cases of human-to-human contact. So far, it is unclear how the virus spreads from person to person, but it’s not as easy as spreading the flu or measles.
The coronavirus is the same class of viruses as the SARS virus that killed more than 700 people at the beginning of this century. During that deadly outbreak, the Chinese government withheld and covered up vital information to both their own people and world health authorities.
The call for transparency comes after China saw a deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003. Some 8,000 people were infected while at least 770 died after the disease spread to other cities and countries across the world.
At the time, China was accused over covering up the outbreak, which was not announced to the public until about five months after it began, according to The New York Times, which noted government officials now say they have learned from “past mistakes.”
“Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people,” said a statement from the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, according to the South China Morning Post.
Chinese “transparency” will be believed when it is seen. Meanwhile, the first U.S. patient appears to be doing well, but authorities are in a race against time to trace his movements and discover who and how many people he’s come in contact with since he arrived in the country.
The man, who is in his 30s, arrived in the U.S. last week before officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced “enhanced health screenings” for airline passengers arriving from or traveling through the Wuhan province.
The patient, who was not identified, is a resident of the U.S. and is in stable condition, CDC officials said during a Tuesday news conference. He is isolated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., and poses “very little risk” to medical staff and the public, officials said. The man was reportedly aware of the outbreak affecting Wuhan before falling ill and proactively reached out to state health officials when he began experiencing symptoms, which have been reported to include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
The patient did not arrive on a direct flight from Wuhan, meaning people on more than one flight may have been exposed to the illness. Officials are now working to determine who may be at risk, Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Washington State epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said during the news conference.
The fact that the patient is in his 30s is good news for him. Almost all deaths from coronaviruses occur in the very young or very old. Like the flu virus, it attacks the respiratory system and healthy young adults are usually able to fight it off.
But since there’s no cure and no vaccine for the coronavirus as yet, it’s still a serious illness for anyone. Let’s hope the communicable disease specialists at CDC can get on top of the disease and keep it under control.