North America’s first confirmed case of the deadly coronavirus has landed at a hospital near Seattle.
“This is a new coronavirus,” explains Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer. “It’s one that hasn’t happened before, it’s one that’s clearly infecting humans and there is some transmission person-to-person so that’s what’s worrisome about this one.”
The outbreak began at a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, China.
It’s now spread to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen as well as Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
There’s been a 500 per cent increase in confirmed cases since the weekend with hundreds infected and at least six deaths.
But health officials fear the numbers may actually be much higher.
And now that they’ve confirmed person-to-person transmission, instead of just from infected animals, it may only be a matter of time before it spreads to B.C.
“It’s very likely we’ll see a case here or maybe more than one in Canada and BC given the travel patterns from China,” Dr. Henry says.
Vancouver International Airport — and the two other Canadian airports with direct flights from China — are now screening passengers, along with several U.S. airports.
Infectious disease experts are also tracking flights.
“We are working on better ways to detect and respond to emerging infectious disease threats like the one that we’re seeing here,” says Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease physician.
But the first U.S. patient, a man in his 30s, didn’t have any symptoms when he landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
Doctors also say the flu-like symptoms can be easily mistaken for something else.
“There’s nothing really distinctive about this virus from its clinical presentation which presents a challenge to doctors,” says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Coronavirus is the same virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak, which killed 800 people.
With millions of people on the move in China for the Lunar New Year, health officials believe the outbreak could get a lot worse.
“This is something we need to be vigilant about,” says Dr. Henry
The World Health Organization is having an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether to declare an international public health emergency.