A new coronavirus that has caused the deaths of at least six people in China has been detected just south of the border.
A traveller from China has been diagnosed near Seattle with the Wuhan coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. The virus has been compared with SARS by health authorities and causes respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
The Seattle Times reported that the patient is a Snohomish County man in his 30s who recently had travelled to Wuhan, China. The man was apparently free from symptoms when he arrived at Seattle-Tacoma airport last Wednesday but contacted doctors Sunday when he started experiencing flu-like symptoms. He was hospitalized and tested positive for the coronavirus Monday.
The Times said the man is listed in good condition at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., and isn’t considered a threat to medical staff or the public.
“We believe the risk to the public is low. And as this situation evolves, we will continue to communicate with the CDC, Snohomish County and the public,” Washington State secretary of health John Wiesman said in a statement.
The news comes as health officials in Canada begin stepping up public awareness and screening at Canadian hospitals and airports, including the Vancouver airport.
On Tuesday evening, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said it had developed a diagnostic test for the new coronavirus.
“The B.C. Centre for Disease Control and provincial and federal authorities are closely monitoring the outbreak of respiratory illness linked to a (new) coronavirus,” the statement read.
“The risk to British Columbians is considered low. Most cases have been reported in Wuhan, China, but cases have also been reported in other cities in China and outside of China, including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand,” the BCCDC statement read.
“Today, the USCDC confirmed that a case was detected in a Washington state resident who recently returned from travel to Wuhan. To date, there have been no cases of illness caused by the coronavirus in British Columbia or elsewhere in Canada.
“We are watching the situation closely and health care workers have been asked to be vigilant and take a travel history for anyone reporting respiratory symptoms. Providers who suspect a case are asked to report it to their local Medical Health Officers immediately. The Public Health Agency of Canada is implementing measures to detect cases that may be entering through our airports. Overall, public health teams are responding by closely monitoring the situation, developing a system for early detection of infections so we can prevent spread, and keeping our partners in health care delivery, public health and the airport authorities apprised of the situation.”
Messaging will appear on arrivals screens at the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airports reminding travellers from Wuhan to tell a border-service officer if they have flu-like symptoms. A health-screening question will also be added to electronic kiosks.
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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in the statement officials are closely monitoring the outbreak, though there have been no cases of illness caused by the coronavirus in the province or in Canada.
Dix and Henry said quarantine officers are available at Vancouver International Airport to co-ordinate response and Richmond Hospital infection control practitioners are ready to respond should there be a need to investigate.
“Anyone who is concerned that they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of, the coronavirus should contact their primary care provider, local public health office or call 811,” the joint statement said.
“We encourage anyone travelling to or from China to visit the federal source of destination-specific travel information that provides important advice to help travellers make informed decisions and travel safely while abroad.”
On Tuesday, Zoe Weber, a spokeswoman for YVR, said they’re receiving a high volume of inquiries about the coronavirus, and noted they continue to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada for decisions about health-related screening of passengers at Canada’s airports, including implanting the message and health questions at kiosks.
U.S. health officials began screening passengers from central China at U.S. airports in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but not at Sea-Tac. On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control said it will expand screening for the virus to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann, a clinical professor at UBC’s School of Population & Public Health, says the Washington state case should have officials questioning the number of airports set up for screening.
“A more important concern is with the Chinese New Year coming up this weekend. That’s a really important time with a lot people travelling to visit relatives within China and throughout the world,” Hoption Cann said. “We just really hope we can contain that infections because it’s a busy time with people coming to and from China.”
There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Canada, although three people who had travelled to Wuhan were investigated as possibly having contracted the virus, and were ruled out of contracting the virus within the past week.
The newly identified coronavirus originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and has spread to Beijing and Shanghai. More than 300 people have been infected so far and six have died, according to Chinese health officials.
Most cases have been linked to a market in Wuhan that sold live animals, but there has been limited person-to-person spread. It’s believed that two people in Guangdong province caught the virus from family members, and some health-care workers have also become ill.
Hoption Cann says Wuhan coronavirus, at this point, shouldn’t deter someone from visiting China.
“At this stage there is probably not too many concerns about taking precautions. It seems to be coming from Wuhan and, as far as we know, there are not too many cases, so it’s unlikely that somebody just travelling to China would be exposed to (the virus),” he said. “But if you are visiting relatives and you know someone who has got a respiratory illness, you may want to delay that visit or be very careful about visiting that individual. Wash your hands, wear a mask … that sort of thing.”
South Korea detected its first case over the weekend after the spread of the virus to Japan and Thailand last week.
The World Health Organization, which will meet Wednesday to discuss whether this is an outbreak, said last week that it expected cases to be identified in other countries.
— With files from Jennifer Saltman, David Carrigg, The Canadian Press and Reuters