1st Wuhan coronavirus case detected in US; Expert says China outbreak is 'tip of the iceberg'

Officials say a person who traveled from Wuhan, China to Washington state has been diagnosed with the virus


Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the UK’s University of Nottingham,  warned, "this is an outbreak that the international community needs to take seriously.” Learn how dispatch, EMS providers and leaders should be preparing for the potential spread of the coronavirus in this analysis by Rob Lawrence, "Rapid Response: Wuhan coronavirus – while not a ‘doomsday scenario,’ prepare for EMS surveillance."

Updated on Jan. 21, 2020 at 2:10 p.m. EST

Officials say the first case of the new coronavirus in the United States has been detected. A person who traveled from Wuhan, China – where the outbreak first began – to Washington state was diagnosed with the virus, according to NPR. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is holding a press conference regarding the potentially deadly coronavirus this afternoon.  

Original Story

Travelers wear face masks as they sit in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Travelers wear face masks as they sit in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Alexi Cohan
Boston Herald

BOSTON — The outbreak of a new coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, has spread to more than 200 people and killed at least three in what is just “the tip of the iceberg,” according to a Boston-area infectious disease doctor.

Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, said with prior coronavirus outbreaks, “In some cases it was deadly so we have to take this seriously.”

Ellerin cited the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak, which was first reported in 2012. Both are types of coronaviruses.

The virus causing the current outbreak is different from those previously identified. Initial symptoms of the “novel coronavirus” include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

The outbreak is believed to have started late last month when people picked it up at a fresh food market in Wuhan.

The head of a Chinese government expert team said Monday that human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in the outbreak, a development that raises the possibility that it could spread more quickly and widely.

“I do think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Ellerin.

Most people have had a coronavirus at some point in their life, as it is a frequent cause of the common cold, but the so-called “novel coronavirus,” a new variation, appears to have higher mortality rates, according to Ellerin.

The virus is already spreading to other Chinese provinces, and South Korea reported its first case Monday.

Authorities in Thailand and in Japan have also already identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.

Some medical workers in China have tested positive for the virus, which Ellerin said also happened during the SARS outbreak.

“That underscores the importance of meticulous or aggressive infection control or infection prevention measures,” said Ellerin.

The spread of the viral pneumonia comes as China enters its busiest travel period, when millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays. Ellerin said that the spike in travel could spread the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control began public health screenings for the virus at San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles airports, which receive most of the travelers from Wuhan.

At least a half-dozen countries in Asia and three U.S. airports have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China as well.

While the virus doesn’t appear to pose an immediate threat to the Bay State, Ellerin said certain protocols are in place to handle such a situation.

“If we suspect one of these novel coronaviruses, the recommendation is that we immediately isolate the patient within airborne isolation,” said Ellerin.

The World Health Organization announced it would convene an Emergency Committee meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak warrants being declared a global health crisis.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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©2020 the Boston Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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