Doctors are still trying to fully understand the spread of the mysterious Wuhan virus. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)
A Washington state man in his 30s was diagnosed last week with the Wuhan virus, known in official medical circles as a coronavirus. One of five confirmed patients in the U.S., he remains in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.
Dave Ross spoke with Dr. Jay Cook, Chief Medical Officer for the hospital, about the local risk.
The patient in Everett is in stable condition, Dr. Cook confirmed.
“The thing I think that concerns most people is that it’s a new virus,” Dr. Cook said. “It has not, until just very recently, been seen or described.”
The Wuhan virus is part of the coronavirus family, which includes the common cold, the flu, and SARS. This new virus affects the respiratory system.
“Because it’s new and because this has sort of escalated again over a relatively short period of time, I think just this amount of uncertainty is often what fuels fear,” Dr. Cook said.
Chinese health authorities now report that the number of confirmed cases has increased to 4,500, a jump of nearly 60 percent. At least 106 people have died.
Forty-three people in Washington state had close contact with the local patient before health officials diagnosed him.
Dr. Cook says Wuhan virus does not appear to be as contagious as a disease like the measles, but officials are working with limited information.
“We know that if someone walks through a room that has measles, it can be transmitted an hour or two later,” Dr. Cooks said. “So far, this virus does not seem to have that level of risk of infection.
China has quarantined the entire city of Wuhan, and recently extended that quarantine to neighboring towns. Hong Kong has enacted a limit on visitors from mainland China.
“Boy, isn’t that an extraordinary step?” Dr. Cook said. “I’m not aware of any effort that is even remotely of this magnitude to try to quarantine what I’ve read is up to 50 million people. It’s such an extraordinary challenge to do that.”
“It at least sends a signal to me that they believe that this is a serious problem, that they want to try to do what they can to limit its spread,” he added.
The World Health Organization chose not to diagnose the virus as a “global health emergency of international concern” when officials met last week, as the virus still remains mostly contained in China.
“The symptoms you really can’t tell from a common cold, at least early on,” Dr. Cook said. “Chances are, especially if you haven’t traveled to central China over the last couple of weeks, that what you have really is a cold or the flu.”
Because a specialized test for Wuhan virus must be sent to the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta, officials are not testing everyone who comes in.
“They’re certainly not recommending testing everyone that just has the sniffles or a sneeze or cough,” Dr. Cook said.
Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett has personnel from the CDC on hand to assist. Everett doctors are also communicating with the CDC’s virus specialist in Atlanta.
They don’t plan to release the patient anytime soon.
“Certainly we’re gonna err on the side of caution, because so little is known about this virus,” Dr. Cook said. “We want to make sure that we keep everyone safe, and when we decide that it’s safe for him to go home, we want to be very confident that the risk to anyone that he may come in contact with is extraordinarily low.”