SALT LAKE CITY — Six countries have confirmed cases of a new virus that has killed 17 people and infected more than 500, including one American. Health officials are now at five major U.S. airports screening travelers arriving from China for symptoms. Should Americans be alarmed?
The new mutation of coronavirus, the same family as SARS and MERS — which prompted previous scares in 2003 and 2012 — and the common cold, was first identified in the Wuhan region of China. The confirmed American infected by the virus had traveled there before returning to Washington state, where he is in stable condition.
“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China,” President Donald Trump said of the Washington case, unconcerned that the novel coronavirus could spread throughout the U.S, Politico reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) — a new mutation of a family of viruses known to cause upper and lower respiratory infections — is now getting passed on by “limited person-to-person spread.” Initially it was believed the virus was infecting people at animal markets in China. According to the CDC, it’s rare that an animal coronavirus will mutate to infect people.
Tuesday the CDC announced that the first U.S. case of 2019-nCoV was a man who had returned from Wuhan to the U.S. on Jan. 15 and was treated for an illness in Washington. After testing a “clinical specimen” from the man, the CDC confirmed it was the new coronavirus and dispatched a team to Washington to assist the state with its investigation of the virus and to identify any “close contacts” who could also become ill.
CDC has deployed around 100 additional employees to major airports to help prevent travelers from bringing the virus into the U.S. Since last Friday, they have conducted health screenings of passengers on either direct or connected flights from Wuhan at San Francisco International (SFO), Los Angeles International (LAX) and John F. Kennedy International (JFK) airports. Screenings were added at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) and Chicago O’Hare International (ORD) airports this week.
Outside of China and the U.S., four cases of the novel coronavirus have have been reported in Thailand, while Japan, South Korea and Taiwan each have reported a single case, according to The Washington Post.
The fear of pandemic — rational or not — has weighed on the global consciousness since at least 1918, when a pandemic flu virus killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 670,000 in the U.S. It could go back even further, at least to the writing of Exodus in the Old Testament. This fear has inspired government programs like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Strategic National Stockpile — which warehouses bulk medical supplies and prophylactics — and pop-culture phenomena like the cult-classic board game “Pandemic”.
Symptoms of coronavirus — which are familiar to anyone that has ever had the cold — include runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever headache and “a general feeling of being unwell,” according CDC. On their website, the CDC has called the development of the novel coronavirus “an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.”
Similar coronavirus outbreaks include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, according to the CDC.