Number of cases rises in U.S.

Infection can spread before symptoms show

- John Bacon

Two more Americans have contracted the new coronaviru­s that has killed more than 50 people in China, raising the U.S. total to five, authoritie­s confirmed Sunday.

The virus has been reported in several countries, but all the deaths have been in China. Most have been in and around Wuhan, a central city of 11 million people that has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

The Los Angeles County Health Department said the infected person was receiving medical treatment.

“There is no immediate threat to the general public, no special precaution­s are required, and people should not be excluded from activities based on their race, country of origin, or recent travel if they do not have symptoms of respirator­y illness,” the department said.

The department said that residents, students, workers and visitors should continue to engage in their regular activities – and practice good public health hygiene “as this is the height of flu season.”

The department said it was working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal, state and local agencies to monitor the “rapidly evolving situation.”

In Arizona, officials in Maricopa County said the confirmed case is in a person who recently returned from travel to Wuhan, China. The patient is a “member of the Arizona State University community” but does not live in university housing.

“This person is not severely ill and is currently in isolation to keep the illness from spreading,” authoritie­s said.

The announceme­nts came one day after the California’s Orange County Health Care Agency’s Communicab­le Disease Control Division said an individual was diagnosed with the virus there. That patient is hospitaliz­ed in isolation and is in good condition.

“The current risk of local transmissi­on remains low,” the agency said in a statement. “There is no evidence that person-to-person transmissi­on has occurred in Orange County.”

The CDC says people who have casual contact with a case are at minimal risk of developing infection.

The first U.S. case, a Washington state man in his 30s, was diagnosed Tuesday. A second case, a woman in her 60s, was reported Friday in Chicago.

Multiple cities and states have been screening patients whose symptoms are consistent with the virus. The Virginia Health Department said Sunday that it is investigat­ing two residents in central Virginia and one in northern Virginia “who meet both clinical and epidemiolo­gic criteria” for the virus.

The virus, first diagnosed in China last month, has infected at least 1,975 people and killed 56 people there, according to that nation’s National Health Commission.

China Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sunday that it appeared the “ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger” and that it is infectious before symptoms show, a characteri­stic that could make it harder to contain.

“From observatio­ns, the virus is capable of transmissi­on even during incubation period” of one to 14 days, Ma said. “There are hidden carriers.”

That makes this outbreak different from severe acute respirator­y syndrome, SARS, a virus that was not contagious during incubation. SARS killed more than 600 people across mainland China and Hong Kong along with more than 100 other people around the world in 2002-2003.

Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, says immediate reporting of symptoms or contact is now more crucial than ever.

“Asymptomat­ic transmissi­on of the novel coronaviru­s definitely makes it more problemati­c and more difficult to contain,” Omenka told USA TODAY. “This automatica­lly heightens the level of concern about the existing cases in the United States. Could there be other cases?”

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