US confirms first case of Wuhan virus

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A staff member screens arriving passengers with thermal scanners at Hankou railway station in Wuhan. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The United States on Tuesday (Jan 21) reported its first case of the coronavirus spreading in China, with public health officials confirming a man in his 30s living in the West Coast state of Washington as America's patient zero.

The patient had travelled to the Wuhan region of China but displayed no symptoms when he arrived in the US on Jan 15, federal and local officials said at a press conference.

He had taken a non-direct flight from Wuhan and landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, two days before the US began screening travellers from Wuhan who landed in three airports: Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

On Jan 19, the man sought care at a local medical facility and reported his travel history. His case was reported to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted overnight tests and confirmed he had the virus on Jan 20.

Dr Scott Lindquist, Washington's state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said the patient is in good condition and is being hospitalised in isolation at a local hospital "out of an abundance of precaution and monitoring".

The US will start screening travellers at two more international airports - Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta - this week, said Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases.

Over 1,200 passengers have been screened at the three US airports in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco since last Friday. No passenger was referred to the hospital and no cases have been discovered through entry screening, said Dr Messonnier.

The risk to the American public remains low, said the CDC.

More than 300 cases of the pneumonia-causing coronavirus have been reported and at least six people have died. China's health commission confirmed on Monday that the illness can be transmitted between people, instead of only from animals to humans.

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday said no special precautionary measures are necessary after a state resident was confirmed to have contracted the fatal Coronavirus.

A seafood market in Wuhan where live animals were reportedly sold has been linked to the outbreak of the virus, as some patients had worked or shopped there.

The US patient had no known contact with the market, said Dr Lindquist at the press conference.

He said: "The individual reported that he did not visit any of those implicated markets and did not know anyone who was ill. He was just travelling from that (Wuhan) area."

The US joins countries such as Thailand, Japan and South Korea in confirming cases of the Wuhan virus outside China.

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