CDC officials on Thursday confirmed the first case of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in the United States.
About the new coronavirus
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 among people in Wuhan, China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the virus, called 2019-nCoV, are fever and lesions in both lungs. Some patients also have reported difficulty breathing, WHO said.
Officials in China said there were 213 reported deaths linked to the virus as of Friday. All of those deaths have occurred in China.
As of Friday, Chinese officials and WHO had reported 9,800 confirmed cases of the virus, with a total of 98 cases reported outside of China.
Reported cases involve patients in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
Experts have connected the Chinese outbreak's origin to a now-closed live seafood market that also sold exotic animals. Researchers who examined the virus' genetic code believe the disease initially infected humans through exposure to snakes sold at the market, and then was spread via human-to-human transmission.
CDC officials confirm 1st human-to-human transmission of new coronavirus in US
CDC officials on Thursday confirmed an Illinois man in his 60s contracted the new coronavirus from his spouse, representing the first known instance of human-to-human transmission of the virus in the United States.
The Illinois man's spouse, who is in her 60s, became infected with the virus after she traveled to Wuhan. Illinois health officials said the man, who has underlying health conditions, is in stable condition. Jennifer Layden, the state's chief medical officer, said the man had been exposed to the virus when his spouse was showing symptoms of the infection.
CDC officials so far do not have evidence of asymptomatic patients transmitting the new coronavirus in the United States. But a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed a case in which an asymptomatic Shanghai woman who was infected with the virus traveled to Germany for a business trip and likely passed the virus to two German businessmen who had contact with her. Two of the men's other coworkers also became infected with the virus even though they did not have contact with the woman.
CDC officials have been monitoring individuals who came in contact with the five initial patients confirmed to have the virus in the United States. In total, CDC has confirmed six cases of the new coronavirus in the United States—including the latest case in Illinois—and is monitoring at least 92 people across 26 states for possible infection.
While the first case of human-to-human transmission of the virus in the United States likely will heighten public concern about the virus' spread, U.S. health officials have said they expect the virus will not be widespread in the country.
Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said federal health officials continue to believe the risk of infection among Americans is low.
WHO declares global health emergency
But given the new coronavirus' rapid spread in China and the growing number of cases in other countries, WHO on Thursday declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), or global health emergency. WHO said the outbreak poses a risk outside of China and requires a coordinated international response.
In addition, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the group declared the PHEIC to provide less developed countries with support to help prevent the virus' spread. He said, "We don't know what sort of damage this virus could do if it spread in a country with a weaker health system."
The PHEIC declaration also could lead to a more unified response to the outbreak, STAT News reports. WHO's emergency committee issued a series of recommendations related to the virus, including speeding up the development of vaccines and treatments for the virus, supporting countries with weaker health system infrastructures, and fighting the spread of misinformation.
Following WHO's declaration, the U.S. Department of State on Thursday increased its travel warning for China to the highest level, advising Americans not to travel to China because of the public health threat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet wrote that the warning is based on WHO's emergency declaration and the virus' ongoing spread.
The United States also is expanding passenger screenings for the new coronavirus to 20 U.S. ports of entry, including Washington Dulles International and Boston Logan International airports, as well as airports in Detroit, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, and Seattle. In addition, the White House on Wednesday announced that it is forming a task force to monitor the virus (Thielking/Joseph, STAT News, 1/30; Ehley, Politico, 1/30; Joseph, STAT News, 1/30; New York Times, 1/30; Joseph, STAT News, 1/30; WHO release, 1/20; Aratami/Berger, Washington Post, 1/30; Samuels, The Hill, 1/29).