EVERETT — The first case of Wuhan Coronavirus reported in the United States is a Snohomish County man in his 30s who traveled to China, federal and local officials announced Tuesday.
The patient was reported to be doing well and in stable condition at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, according to the Snohomish Health District.
The outbreak of the mysterious, pneumonia-like virus originated in Wuhan, China, and is linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting it is possibly of animal origin. At least nine people have died — all in China, most 60 or older, including at least some who had a previous medical condition. Hundreds have been sickened worldwide.
This week Chinese officials concluded it can spread from person to person. How easily it spreads is unknown.
As of Tuesday, the Snohomish County man was in a special isolation unit, where he was expected to stay for at least the next two days.
“We are grateful that the patient is doing well, and that he’s currently not ill, and that he has been so cooperative,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “… Our first priority was clearly making sure that this patient was healthy and being appropriately treated as we move on to the next phase.”
The man is a Chinese immigrant who was visiting his home country. He’s a legal permanent resident of the U.S., Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at the state Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline. The man transferred flights at least once before arriving at Sea-Tac Airport on Jan. 15, but an exact itinerary hasn’t been released.
At that time he showed no symptoms, health officials said.
“In this case, we don’t believe even if we had active screening at the airport that this patient would have been picked up, because at the time we don’t believe the patient had any symptoms of the fever,” said John Weissman, the Washington state secretary of health.
On Sunday, four days after the man returned to Washington, he started to feel ill. He went to a medical clinic in Snohomish County. Staff advised him to go home and stay isolated, while lab tests were conducted.
“We were in communication with the CDC Emergency Operations Center, coordinating specimens that were shipped overnight and had the results the following day,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. “Incredibly fast.”
The man was transported to the north Everett hospital Monday, according to the state Department of Health.
Now the top priority for officials is tracing his contacts, to determine who is at risk. The man was traveling alone but took group transportation home from Sea-Tac. He lives by himself. Health officials described the number of possible contacts since he got back to the U.S. as small. State officials said he’s been very helpful in identifying people he’d contacted over the past few days. Those people will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.
“Providence is contacting the small number of staff and patients who may have come in contact with the patient at one of our clinics,” a hospital news release said. “We are also implementing a screening system in our electronic health record to identify patients at risk for this infection.”
The Snohomish County case was announced nationally Tuesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“No one wants to be the first in the nation in these types of situations, but these are the types of situations that public health and its partners train and prepare for,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “Because of this, everything has been going along quite smoothly.”
The CDC had implemented public health entry screening at airports in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. This week Atlanta and Chicago are being added. Anyone flying from Wuhan to the United States will be funneled through one of those airports. Officials around the world are conducting similar airport screenings elsewhere, with the goal of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season.
There were 440 cases reported worldwide Tuesday, and the U.S. joined a growing list of places outside mainland China reporting cases, following Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Federal officials consider the risk to the American public at large as low. However, Dr. Messonnier expected to see more cases in the U.S. and around the world in the coming days.
In general, it can take two weeks for symptoms to show up, state health officials said Tuesday. The coronavirus family includes those that cause the common cold, but some found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses like SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.
Initial symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.
“One of the things that makes coronavirus different than something like Ebola is it’s a respiratory virus and has the ability to spread through the air, similar to other airborne viruses like influenza,” said Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, director of the University of Washington MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security. “ … We’re still learning about how infectious it is and how serious any one infection is in terms of fatality rate.”
Last month, doctors began seeing the new type of viral pneumonia in people who spent time at the food market in Wuhan. According to health officials, the Snohomish County man said he did not visit that market.
Three CDC employees have been assigned to assess who’s at risk, all the way from China to the man’s home in Snohomish County.
“I think you have to be reasonable about what your contacts have been,” Rabinowitz said. “Use common sense. There’s a lot of respiratory viruses going around. But right now, we would expect that if people have not had any contact with any returning travelers, we would expect the risk to be very low.”
Gov. Inslee advised the public to “do what you’d do” in flu season — wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze, and stay home from work if you feel sick.
“This is certainly not a moment for panic or high anxiety, it is a moment for vigilance,” he said. “ … There’s nowhere in Snohomish County I’d be reluctant to take my new granddaughter or family members.”
The Associated Press and Herald reporter Zachariah Bryan contributed.