ST. GEORGE — A possible case of the virus that has been spreading quickly through China has been reported in a patient a few hours away from Southern Utah in Las Vegas.
The Southern Nevada Health District announced Wednesday that it was looking into a possible case of the new coronavirus, designated 2019-nCoV, in Clark County.
The patient is being monitored and tested at an undisclosed hospital in the Las Vegas area.
“The Health District is continuing its investigation and will release appropriate information as it is confirmed and as testing is completed,” SNHD spokesperson Jennifer Sizemore said.
Sizemore told St. George News the patient is a resident of Clark County. The patient arrived in Las Vegas from a trip to Asia on Jan. 14 and was admitted into a local hospital Tuesday.
Whether the virus reaches Southern Utah or not, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department will be ready, SUPHD Public Information Officer David Heaton said.
Heaton told St. George News the department has outbreak response plans in place, which they have been refining and practicing every year.
“We were able to respond quickly during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic with timely information and instructions for the media and the public,” Heaton said. “Our plans include teaming up with our many emergency response partners and agencies in the community if a large-scale health event occurs. “
The first known human infection of coronavirus was discovered a month ago in Wuhan, China, but has quickly spread. The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened in the country during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. On Wednesday, the number of cases jumped to 5,974, surpassing the 5,327 people diagnosed with SARS.
The death toll, which stood at 132 Wednesday, is still less than half the number who died in China from SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. Scientists say there are many questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how easily it spreads and how severe it is.
St. George and its surrounding national parks are a popular stop for tourists from China, which also means it’s not immune to being a part of a pandemic thousands of miles away. Heaton said that fact is being taken into account by local health officials.
“We’ve factored in our tourism industry as well and have good working relationships with national park officials in case this coronavirus, or any other unusual health issue, arises,” Heaton said. “We would be contacted by any local medical provider if any suspect cases were seen, whether the patient was visiting or local.”
In a report published Wednesday, Chinese researchers suggested that person-to-person spread among close contacts occurred as early as mid-December. Based on the first 425 confirmed cases, the researchers estimate that each infection led to 2.2 others on average. That’s a bit more than an ordinary case of the flu but far less than some other respiratory diseases such as whooping cough and tuberculosis. The rate for SARS, a cousin to this new virus, was estimated to be three.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus itself starts out with symptoms similar to the common cold but can lead to lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. It is that progression that can become deadly, especially among older members of the population.
More than half of the cases in which symptoms began before Jan. 1 were tied to a seafood market in Wuhan, but only 8% of cases after that have been, researchers found. The average incubation period has been reported to be five days.
A man in Washington state who traveled from Wuhan was the first person diagnosed with the virus on Jan. 21, and four more cases have been confirmed since, including in the nearby states of Arizona and California.
However, considering the far greater death toll of more common diseases like the flu, the arrival of coronavirus is far from being a panic situation in the U.S.
“For perspective, this year’s seasonal flu has infected at least 15 million Americans, hospitalized at least 140,000 and killed at least 8,000 since October,” Heaton said. “While we are monitoring the coronavirus situation closely on the local, state and national level, it’s likely that our robust public health and surveillance system will prevent any large scale outbreak in the United States.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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