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Latest American infected could be first coronavirus case of community spread within US

Samara Heisz/iStock
Samara Heisz/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The latest patient being treated for the novel coronavirus in the United States is being investigated by health officials as possibly the first case of community spread on American soil.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis Wednesday night, bringing the total number of infected Americans to 60. The majority of the cases are U.S. citizens who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was placed under quarantine in Japanese waters as hundreds of passengers became infected with the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, which originated in China.

However, the newest patient, who is a resident of California’s Solano County, had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S.,” Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement Wednesday night, “and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California.”

The individual was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento from another hospital on Wednesday, and doctors requested COVID-19 testing by the CDC.

“When the patient arrived, the patient had already been intubated, was on a ventilator, and given droplet protection orders because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition,” the hospital said in a statement Wednesday night. “Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

The CDC ordered COVID-19 testing on Sunday, according to UC Davis Medical Center.

The CDC said it would continue to investigate the source of the infection. It’s “possible” that the individual “may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected,” an agency official said in a statement Wednesday.

The new coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December and has since spread overseas to at least 37 other countries, with South Korea, Italy and Iran seeing recent surges in case numbers. The World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and said it “absolutely” has the potential to become a pandemic, has recorded more than 81,000 confirmed infections globally. Over 96% of those cases were in China.

At least 2,762 people have died from confirmed cases of the virus, all but 44 in China, according to the latest data from the WHO.

Increasing concerns over virus exposure have prompted some cities around the world to suspend public gatherings and shutter schools, businesses and restaurants. Many airlines have also suspended flights to China as well as South Korea, which has the second-highest national total of coronavirus cases behind China.

COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.

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