Coronavirus: Engineer who attended cybersecurity conference tests positive for bug

A passenger checks in for an international flight at San Francisco International Airport on March 06, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - An engineer who attended the annual RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco last month (February 2020) has tested positive for the coronavirus and is seriously ill with respiratory issues.

The 45-year-old man began experiencing symptoms when he returned home to Connecticut from California on Feb 28, his wife said in an email.

His condition deteriorated the following week and he was hospitalised in respiratory distress on March 6, she said.

The man was placed into a medically induced coma and is now on a ventilator in "guarded condition".

The man is predisposed for pneumonia due to an underlying heart condition, his wife said.

Bloomberg is withholding the man's name to protect his privacy.

The annual RSA Conference in San Francisco is among the leading cybersecurity events in North America, rivalled only by BlackHat in Las Vegas.

The event was held Feb 24 to Feb 28 and conference organisers said it drew more than 36,000 participants, including dozens of keynote presentations in auditoriums packed with company executives, government officials and journalists.

Concerns about the novel coronavirus were heightened ahead of this year's conference.

Hand-sanitiser dispensers were placed prominently throughout RSA venues and many exhibitors opted to bump elbows instead of shake hands. Many privately expressed surprise the event wasn't cancelled.

The conference said 14 sponsors and exhibitors withdrew in advance and several companies also pulled out of the gathering, including AT&T, Verizon Communications and International Business Machines.

Included in RSA's daily emails to attendees during the conference were reminders that organisers were closely monitoring the virus situation.

RSA also advised conference goers to follow World Health Organisation guidelines to protect themselves from infection.

The man diagnosed with the disease known as Covid-19 is an engineer at Exabeam, according to his LinkedIn profile. Exabeam is based in Foster City, California. A representative for the company didn't immediately comment.

Representatives for RSA and the San Francisco Department of Public Health didn't immediately respond to voice mail messages and emails seeking comment.

More than 113,000 cases of the illness have been reported since its origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of December. The viral disease has spread to 104 countries and regions and thus far caused 3,978 deaths, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

California, Washington and New York have more than 100 confirmed cases of the disease, the most in the US, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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