A Chicago woman in her 60s has been identified as the second U.S. resident to be infected with the new coronavirus, apparently while traveling to Wuhan, China, federal and local health officials said Friday.
No one who has had contact with the woman or the first patient, from Snohomish County, Wash., has experienced any symptoms, and the overall health risk in the United States remains low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But with more cases predicted, some in the Philadelphia area are responding with caution. The Main Line Chinese Culture Center has canceled a Chinese New Year celebration that had been scheduled for Sunday, at Great Valley High School in Malvern, citing the fact that many children and older people were expected to attend.
“It’s just an extreme precaution,” said Qunbin Xiong, principal of the center, which offers educational programs to children and adults. “Even though we have no cases, and we’re so far away, some in the community feel like they’re closer to that virus.”
The event typically draws a crowd of more than 1,000, and organizers would be unable to ensure that no visitors had recently traveled in the Wuhan area, he said.
But Friday’s Midnight Lion Dance Performance and Sunday’s Lion Dance Parade, both in Chinatown, are on as scheduled, said organizers at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp.
The new patient in Chicago had no symptoms when flying home on Jan. 13, but contacted her physician a few days later after feeling unwell, Chicago health commissioner Allison Arwady said Friday in a teleconference. Upon learning she had traveled to China, the doctor advised her to go the hospital, where she has been kept apart from other patients, Arwady said.
“The patient is clinically doing well, currently in stable condition, and remains hospitalized, primarily for infection control,” Arwady said.
Chinese officials have identified more than 1,000 infections and 41 deaths from the virus, imposing travel restrictions and closing a large animal market that is believed to be the source of the microbe — so named because each particle has a fringe that resembles the corona in a solar eclipse.
More U.S. cases are expected to be confirmed, senior CDC physician Nancy Messonnier said. So far, health departments in 22 states have reported 63 patients to the agency as possible cases. Eleven of those people have tested negative for the virus, including one in New Jersey.
“This is a sign that the public-health system is working,” said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Chicago’s Arwady declined to say if the infected woman had visited the animal market in Wuhan. But the first U.S. patient to be identified, from Washington State, had not visited the market, suggesting that the virus can be transmitted from person to person.
Messonnier urged people to consult their physicians if they had been to China and now experienced any kind of fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
“We want everybody to err on the side of caution if they have those symptoms, and they have a travel history,” she said.
Early evidence suggests that the virus has an incubation period of 14 days, meaning the time between exposure and the development of symptoms, Messonnier said.
That is longer than many common viruses, potentially increasing the risk that the infection will spread, said Zachary A. Klase, a virologist at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Some common cold viruses have incubation periods of four to 10 days, for example.
“You have to watch people a little longer to be really sure,” said Klase, an associate professor of biological sciences.
A more important question is how contagious the new virus is, the answer to which is still unknown, he said. As during any winter, the far greater risk in the U.S. is the flu virus, the spread of which can be limited through hand-washing and vaccination, Klase said.
For the new coronavirus, the CDC has spelled out guidelines for hospitalized patients as follows: