Home Health News Health officials: Coronavirus risk in US 'remains low' – AOL

Health officials: Coronavirus risk in US 'remains low' – AOL

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The United States must remain on alert as the new coronavirus spreads globally, public health officials said Tuesday, though the risk for spread in the country still remains low.

“This is a very fast moving, constantly changing situation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a news conference. “But at this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety.”

Dozens of people have been tested for the coronavirus in the U.S., but only five cases have been confirmed so far. All are travelers from Wuhan, China — where most cases have been reported by far — and all are hospitalized in isolation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now monitoring people who have come into close contact with those patients for any signs of illness. Even though cases have spread between people in China, Japan and Germany, there have been no signs of human-to-human transmission in the U.S. so far.

Travel warnings

As the epidemic continues, the U.S. government has issued travel advisories, saying Americans should not travel to Hubei province in China, where the new coronavirus is believed to have originated, and where cases are concentrated.

For travel elsewhere in China, the Department of State cautions that Americans should reconsider or postpone trips.

The U.S. is also stepping up efforts to screen passengers arriving from China. The CDC will begin screening for sick passengers at quarantine stations at 20 airports across the nation, including the five airports already screening passengers from Wuhan.

Questions remain about the spread

Because the virus is so new, scientists are still learning the basics of how it acts, how it spreads, and how deadly it is. Additional information may be forthcoming, as Chinese authorities Tuesday agreed to allow outside experts in to help with the growing outbreak.

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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions

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A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)

Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong’s New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital’s Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong’s health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients’ samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)

WUHAN, CHINA – JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

WUHAN, CHINA – JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

WUHAN, CHINA – JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

WUHAN, CHINA – JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA – JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

YICHANG, CHINA – JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China’s Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA – JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)




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Most respiratory illnesses are spread when an infected person has symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing.

There have been some early reports that suggested this illness might be spread by people who are asymptomatic, that is, people who’ve been infected but aren’t yet showing any symptoms. (This is similar to how influenza spreads, for example.)

In all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks.

U.S. health officials say they haven’t seen this virus act like that, and want to see the data from China that suggests it does.

“The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks.”

Treatments under development

There is no specific medication or treatment for the new coronavirus; patients are only helped by what’s called supportive care, for example, to help them breathe.

But treatments are under development, and some existing drugs, such an experimental Ebola treatment called remdesivir, are being studied for their potential role in treating the new coronavirus.

Additionally, early work on a vaccine has begun at the NIH.

It’s work that Fauci attributes to Chinese researchers publicly releasing the genetic sequence of the virus, so scientists worldwide can use it for vaccine development.

Phase I of a clinical trial could begin within three months. That doesn’t mean the U.S. will be immediately supplied with a vaccine, however. It would take many more months to determine whether that vaccine is safe and effective.

By then, the global outbreak could be over, and researchers would then reassess vaccine efforts.

“We are proceeding as if we will have to deploy a vaccine,” Fauci said during the news conference. “We’re looking at the worst scenario if this becomes a bigger outbreak.”

Global spread

Cases in China are rising daily. As of Tuesday morning, more than 4,500 cases had been confirmed in China, up from just under 3,000 the day before. At least 106 people have died.

And health officials from around the world are confirming a rising number of cases. In addition to the five U.S. cases, others have been diagnosed in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

While all of those cases are associated with travelers from the epicenter of the outbreak — Wuhan, China — there has been evidence of person-to-person transmission in Germany and Japan. No close contacts of the U.S. patients have fallen ill, but they remain under close observation.

Meanwhile on Monday, the World Health Organization quietly raised its global risk assessment for coronavirus from “moderate” to “high,” admitting the previous assessment was “incorrect.”

The change does not mean, however, that the WHO has declared the outbreak an international health emergency. The WHO emergency committee has convened twice and has twice declined make such a declaration.

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