By ALEX WIGGLESWORTH,
California has recorded its first confirmed case of the new strain of coronavirus, arriving in Orange County by a traveler who visited from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.
The Orange County Health Care Agency confirmed late Saturday night that the infected person’s virus was the same strain as the one that has spread to more than 2,000 people in 14 countries and territories and caused 56 deaths since it was discovered late last month in central China.
The patient is in good condition and is in isolation at a hospital, Orange County health officials said. Health authorities are following up with anyone who has had close contact with the patient, but also noted that people with casual contact — such as visiting the same grocery store or movie theater — “are at minimal risk of developing infection.”
“The risk of local transmission remains low,” officials said. While officials were waiting to hear lab confirmation of the virus, the patient was instructed on how to reduce exposing the virus to others.
Authorities also added there is no evidence that the virus has been spread by the traveler to other Orange County residents.
The new strain of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, can cause respiratory illness and pneumonia. It was originally thought to be spreading from only animals to people in central China, but there are now indications it is also spreading among people.
In people who are young and healthy, the virus does not seem to cause severe illness, with symptoms including fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Most of the dozens of deaths tied to the coronavirus to date have been in the central Chinese province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital.
Most of the dead were at least 50 years old with underlying medical problems or weakened immune systems, Chinese officials said. But a 36-year-old man succumbed to the virus last week, and a healthcare worker was also reported to be among the fatalities.
Health experts in the United States have said there’s no evidence to suggest the new coronavirus is any more virulent than the flu.
But because this strain of coronavirus is new, health officials are on high alert, and researchers will have to start from square one in developing a vaccine, which will probably take years to develop.
Coronaviruses form a large variety of viruses, including the common cold and the ones that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS and MERS sickened thousands of people around the world and caused hundreds of deaths.
As of Friday, 18 people between the ages 3 to 58 had been tested for the virus in California, according to the state Department of Public Health. They included a traveler who arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Mexico City and was taken to a hospital early Thursday for an evaluation.