EVERETT — The first case of Novel Coronavirus reported in the U.S. is a Snohomish County man in his 30s who traveled to China, the Snohomish Health District said Tuesday.
The outbreak of the mysterious, pneumonia-like virus originated in Wuhan, China, and is linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting it is possibly of animal origin. Six people have been killed — all in China, most age 60 or older, including at least some who had a previous medical condition. Hundreds have been sickened worldwide.
This week Chinese officials concluded it can spread from person to person. How easily it spreads is unknown.
The Snohomish County patient was reported to be in stable condition at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, according to the health district. As of Tuesday, he remained in a special isolation unit, where he was expected to stay for at least the next 48 hours.
“We are grateful that the patient is doing well, and that he’s currently not ill, and that he has been so cooperative,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “… Our first priority was clearly making sure that this patient was healthy and being appropriately treated as we move on to the next phase.”
The man had no symptoms when he arrived at Sea-Tac Airport on Jan. 15, health officials said.
“In this case, we don’t believe even if we had active screening at the airport that this patient would have been picked up, because at the time we don’t believe the patient had any symptoms of the fever,” said John Weissman, the Washington state secretary of health.
On Sunday, four days after the man’s return to Washington, he started feeling ill. He went to a medical clinic in Snohomish County.
“We were in communication with the CDC Emergency Operations Center, coordinating specimens that were shipped overnight and had the results the following day,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. “Incredibly fast.”
He was transported to the north Everett hospital Monday, according to the state department of health.
A top priority for officials is tracing his contacts to determine who is at risk. Health officials described the number of possible contacts since he got back to the U.S. as small.
“Providence is contacting the small number of staff and patients who may have come in contact with the patient at one of our clinics,” a hospital press release said. “We are also implementing a screening system in our electronic health record to identify patients at risk for this infection.”
Officials are contacting people who may have come in contact with the infected traveler. Those individuals will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.
The Snohomish County case was announced publicly Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“No one wants to be the first in the nation in these types of situations, but these are the types of situations that public health and its partners train and prepare for,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “Because of this, everything has been going along quite smoothly.”
The CDC had implemented public health entry screening at airports in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This week, Atlanta and Chicago will be added. Anyone flying from Wuhan to the United States will be funneled through one of those airports. Officials around the world have implemented similar airport screenings in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season.
The virus was originally thought to be spreading from animals to people.
There were 300 cases reported worldwide Tuesday, and the U.S. joined a growing list of places outside mainland China reporting cases, following Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Federal officials consider the risk to the American public at large as low. However, Dr. Messonnier expected to see more cases in the U.S. and around the world in the coming days.
The coronavirus family includes those that cause the common cold, but some found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses like SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome. Initial symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.
Last month, doctors began seeing the new type of viral pneumonia in people who spent time at a food market in Wuhan. According to health officials, the Snohomish County man did not visit that market. Three CDC employees have been assigned to assess who’s at risk, all the way from China to his home in Snohomish County.