CHICAGO - A Chicago woman who recently returned from China has been diagnosed with the first reported case of the coronavirus in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Health officials said the 60-year-old woman came through O'Hare International Airport on Jan. 13 without showing any signs of illness. But a few days later she called her doctor to report she was feeling sick.
The woman has been hospitalized to prevent spread of the virus and is in stable condition, CDC officials said. People she had close contact with are being monitored, according to the CDC.
Initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath, and those seriously ill developed pneumonia. There are currently no vaccines to protect humans against a coronavirus infection, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonier said the risk to the public remains low but that it's likely more cases will be diagnosed in the coming days, as the virus appears to have a two-week incubation period.
At least 63 patients in 22 states are under investigation for potential signs of the new viral respiratory illness, according to the agency. Two cases have been confirmed positive, while 11 were negative.
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O'Hare International Airport began screening for symptoms of the respiratory coronavirus Wednesday.
One veteran of the SARS outbreak said that while there are some similarities in the new virus — namely its origins in China and the link to animals — the current outbreak appears much milder.
Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s global response to SARS in 2003, said the new virus appears dangerous for older people with other health conditions, but doesn’t seem nearly as infectious as SARS.
“It looks like it doesn’t transmit through the air very easily and probably transmits through close contact,” he said. “That was not the case with SARS.”
Health officials confirmed earlier this week that the disease can be spread between humans after finding two infected people in Guangdong province in southern China who had not been to Wuhan -- the outbreak's epicenter.
Still, “CDC believes that the immediate risk to the American public continues to be low at this time, but the situation continues to evolve rapidly,” CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said.
The first two US patients did the right thing, recognizing their travel risk and alerting doctors to it, so that health authorities could get them isolated to prevent spread, tested promptly, and start monitoring people who've had close contact with them.
It took about 36 hours for the first U.S. patient to be tested, get the results from the CDC in Atlanta and be hospitalized after he went to a clinic Sunday morning, according to a timeline released Friday by health officials in Washington state.
The incubation period is thought to be two weeks. But it's also a heavy flu season, and some of the symptoms are similar, Messonnier said.
“We want everyone to err on the side of caution if they have those symptoms and have a travel history,” she stressed.
Illinois health officials say the Chicago woman is in isolation and hospitalized at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.
The Washington state patient was in satisfactory condition Friday in an isolation unit at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, 30 miles north of Seattle. Nurses who’ve trained for Ebola patients are providing his care, wearing hoods with plastic face shields and using respirators to breathe filtered air. They are bagging and storing disposable gloves, linens and gowns until the CDC tells them what to do with the patient’s medical waste.
“We have been preparing for this since 2015,” said Robin Addison, one of the nurses and co-leader of the hospital’s biocontainment team. The hospital is one of about 150 nationwide ready to assess patients with Ebola or other highly contagious diseases, with training money provided by Congress.
China has issued massive travel bans in hard-hit sections of that country to try to stem spread of the virus. For now, CDC said it will keep up its screening process at five U.S. airports but will reevaluate its necessity.
“Right now, our response is very much a work in progress,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as lawmakers emerged from a briefing with federal health authorities. “There's a lot we're still learning.”
In Chicago, Chicago's public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the newest patient hadn't had close contact with many people since becoming ill or taken public transportation or attended large gatherings.
"This is all very reassuring as far as infection risk to the general public," Arwady said.
"There is no need for the general public to change their behavior in any way."
Sun Times Media Wire and Associated Press contributed to this report.