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Novel coronavirus spreads in US as WHO declares global emergency

Novel coronavirus spreads in US as WHO declares global emergency

International alert —

The immediate risk to the United States is still considered LOW.

Beth Mole

A serious man in a open-collar suit speaks into a microphone.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference following a WHO Emergency committee to discuss whether the Coronavirus, the SARS-like virus, outbreak that began in China constitutes an international health emergency, on January 30, 2020 in Geneva.

The World Health Organization announced today, January 30, that the outbreak of respiratory disease from the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).”

PHEICs are declared in extraordinary situations, such as when public health is threatened by an infectious disease that could spread internationally and requires international responses and collaboration to address. The declaration prompts additional international support efforts and releases financial resources.

In a press conference today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (who goes by Dr. Tedros) praised China for its response efforts to the outbreak so far. The country’s efforts and commitment to transparency is “very impressive,” he said.

“This vote is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Dr. Tedros went on. “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries.” The WHO’s greatest concern currently is that the virus could continue to spread to other countries, potentially ones which may not be well-equipped to respond, such as low-income countries.

As of today, WHO is reporting 7,834 confirmed cases globally and 170 deaths in the outbreak.

All of the deaths have occurred in China.

Of the confirmed cases reported by WHO, 7,736 are in China and 98 are scattered in 18 other countries. Thailand, Japan, and Singapore have the largest numbers of cases outside of China.

Of the 98 international cases, almost all had recent travel exposure to China; only eight had no travel history to China. These eight cases, which represent person-to-person spread outside of China, occurred in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and the United States.

Still low risk for US

The US CDC confirmed the first instance of person-to-person spread of the 2019-nCoV in the country in a press briefing just before the WHO announced its PHEIC determination.

The new US case is in a Chicago resident who is the husband of the first confirmed case in Chicago, a woman in her 60s. The woman had traveled to Wuhan and returned to the US on January 13. She developed symptoms of a 2019-nCoV infection, which generally include fever, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

She is being hospitalized in a local hospital in Chicago but is said to be doing “quite well,” according to the Illinois health officials. She is mainly being kept in the hospital for isolation purposes.

Her husband, who is also in his 60s, is now also hospitalized and is said to be in stable condition. He is the sixth confirmed case of 2019-nCoV in the US and the first one without any travel history to the Hubei province.

Officials in Illinois are said to be following 21 contacts. The CDC is investigating 165 potentially exposed people, 68 of whom have tested negative for the virus, according to the latest figures.

“Given what we’ve seen in China and other countries with the novel coronavirus, CDC experts have expected some person-to-person spread in the US,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement today. “We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

In today’s press conference, the CDC said it does not recommend that people in the US use face masks. It recommends that the general public practice the same good hygiene methods they should already be practicing during cold and flu season. That is, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, stay home when you feel ill, and cover your coughs and sneezes.

In addition, people should stay informed about the outbreak in case risk and health recommendations change.

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