Wuhan virus: 16 people monitored for contact with US victim

Dr Chris Spitters speaks during a press conference about the first confirmed US case the 2019 novel coronavirus in Washington on Jan 21, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEW MEXICO (REUTERS) - At least 16 people had close contact with a man in Washington state diagnosed as the first United States case of the coronavirus and are being monitored for the illness that has killed 17 people in China and sickened hundreds more, local officials said on Wednesday (Jan 22).

The patient, a 30-year-old man, is doing well and may soon be released from an Everett, Washington hospital, officials told press conferences.

None of the people who were in close contact with the patient have displayed symptoms of the flu-like illness, said Dr Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

"The risk to the general public remains low," he said, adding that he would not be surprised if the number of people believed to have been in close contact with the man increased.

The man fell ill over the weekend after travelling to Wuhan, China, his hometown, in November and December, and was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Monday.

"I would expect at some point we're going to have more cases in the US," said Wiesman.

Passengers aboard the man's flight from China are being contacted by the US Centers for Disease Control and state health authorities, said CDC Medical Officer Satish Pillai.

The CDC has raised its travel alert for Wuhan to a level 2, calling for enhanced precautions. All travellers from Wuhan are being directed to five US airports - in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco - for screening.

The CDC is developing a test for the virus and hopes to start distributing it to state health departments, Pillai said.

Wiesman said people had to be within 1.8m of a person with the virus for a prolonged period to be deemed to have been in close contact.

People develop the virus after droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough fall on them, he said.

The 16 individuals under observation in Washington are not being asked to go into isolation unless they develop coronavirus symptoms, Wiesman said.

"We don't believe you are infectious until you have symptoms," he said, giving no further details on the locations of individuals who had been in close contact with the infected man.

The virus, which causes respiratory symptoms similar to a cold or flu, has been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, the largest city in central China with a population of about 11 million. That market has since been shut down.

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