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5th U.S. case of coronavirus reported in Maricopa County

An Arizona State University student who recently traveled to Wuhan, China, has been diagnosed with the fifth case of potentially deadly coronavirus in the United States, officials said Sunday.

The patient's diagnosis was publicly confirmed Sunday by the Arizona Department of Health Services and Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The Arizona patient is an ASU student who does not live in student housing, officials said. "This person is not severely ill and is currently in isolation to keep the illness from spreading," state officials said.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which can trigger a pneumonia infection, has killed 56 and caused illness in nearly 2,000 people in this outbreak, mostly in Wuhan, in China's central province of Hubei. The virus is spread via airborne means, when a person carrying the virus sneezes or coughs. Officials have advised that everyone frequently wash their hands, cover their cough or sneezes with a tissue, and remain home if they are ill with flu-like symptoms.

"MCDPH and ADHS are currently investigating to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed while the person was infectious," said a statement from ADHS. "Any individuals who have been identified as having been exposed will be contacted directly. These individuals will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms in collaboration with public health and the university."

"While the immediate risk of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus to the general public is believed to be low at this time, ADHS and our county public health partners will continue to actively monitor for the disease," said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state health department. "There are simple daily precautions that everyone should always take to prevent the spread of diseases."

Currently, no commercial testing is available and there is no vaccine, ADHS said. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is closely related to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused earlier deadly outbreaks.

Two other U.S. cases were confirmed Sunday in Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif. Other patients have been reported in Illinois and Washington state. All five patients in this country have been hospitalized, Centers for Disease Control officials have said.

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Each of the U.S. patients had recently traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Symptoms of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus can appear as as soon as two days and up to two weeks after exposure, and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Difficulty breathing

Health officials have advised these precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home when you are ill.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneezes with a tissue, then immediately discard that tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched.

A day before confirming the case here, the state agency noted that "seasonal influenza can cause similar symptoms to coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and is circulating in Arizona with over 10,500 lab-reported cases so far this season. Simple, everyday measures, like washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home can help stop the spread of flu."

Federal officials have been receiving many calls about potential cases in this country, and had "just over 100" patients being assessed as potential coronavirus cases on Sunday, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases head Nancy Messonier said.

The CDC agency is "getting calls all day, all night and that's what we want. We want people to have a high index of suspicion and call if they have a patient they are concerned about," she said.

"While CDC considers this a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk from coronavirus to the general American public is considered low," Arizona officials said.

"Early on, many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread," CDC officials said. "However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, and there is evidence that person-to-person spread is occurring. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people."

The U.S. embassy in Beijing announced Sunday that it was evacuating staff at the American consulate in Wuhan and some U.S. citizens via a charter flight to San Francisco.

Chinese authorities have put strict limits on travel in the region of 50 million residents. The city of Wuhan has a population of about 11 million.

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CDC has advised travelers who develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing after being in Wuhan within the past two weeks to seek medical care right away. Those patients should call ahead before going to a doctor or emergency room, so medical staff can be prepared, officials said.

Direct flights from Wuhan have been stopped, but the CDC is actively screening passengers from Wuhan at five U.S. airports – Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, John F. Kennedy International in New York, O’Hare International in Chicago and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta – to identify ill passengers and educate travelers about the new virus and what to do if they begin to experience symptoms.

Maricopa County Department of Public Health officials said the number of potentially ill people under investigation in Arizona is a moving target that changes by the hour.

As of Monday, CDC officials reported they had 110 “persons under investigation” across the U.S. for possible exposure to the virus.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said potential cases currently fall into two categories – people experiencing a fever or respiratory illness who have either recently traveled from Wuhan, or have come into direct contact with a confirmed case of the virus.

Although reports say Chinese officials claim the virus is contagious during its incubation period, Messonnier said the CDC has no clear evidence that people are contagious before symptoms arise. She said the current known incubation period of the virus is two to 14 days.

“Risk depends on exposure. … At this time in the U.S., this virus is not spreading in the community,” Messonnier said. “We continue to believe that the immediate health risk to the American public is low.”

The basic reproduction number for novel coronavirus – a number that determines how many infections each existing infection causes – is 1.5 to 3, Messonnier said. By comparison, the number for measles is 12 to 18. A disease is considered under control once the number falls below 1.

Of the 110 potential cases in the U.S., Messonnier said, tests on five came back positive and 32 were negative; results from the other 73 are pending. The five confirmed cases in the U.S. were in Arizona, Illinois, Washington and California, which had two cases.

The disease has been confirmed in 15 other countries, but the vast majority are in China, where more than 2,700 cases have been confirmed and 81 people have died. Confirmed cases in other countries all are in single digits.

The virus can survive only a matter of hours on surfaces, Messonnier said, so there is an extremely low risk – if any – of contamination on products or packaging shipped from China over the course of days or weeks in ambient temperatures.

Messonnier said the CDC is considering broadening the screening and about 2,400 people have been screened at airports so far, adding that the CDC is expecting to release new travel recommendations in coming days.

The CDC also is working on providing test kits to states and international partners within the next few weeks, she said.

Despite the ban on air travel from Wuhan, the CDC is urging those who have traveled anywhere in east-central China’s Hubei province to contact their health care providers for testing if they experience fevers or respiratory illnesses.

Cronkite News reporters MacKinley Lutes-Adlhoch and Gabrielle Zabat contributed to this report.

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