1st Case of Coronavirus Confirmed in Chicago

The first case of a new and potentially deadly virus circulating in China has been confirmed in Chicago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The patient, a Chicago woman in her 60s, returned to the United States on Jan. 13 from Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of respiratory illness called the novel coronavirus has been ongoing since December 2019, according to the CDC. 

Authorities said the patient remains hospitalized but is in stable condition and doing well. She didn’t have symptoms at the time of travel, according to health officials, who declined to say what airline she flew on.

“This is a single travel-associated case, not a local emergency,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

This is the second confirmed case of the virus in the U.S. The CDC earlier this week identified a Seattle-area man who had contracted the virus after visiting Wuhan. Across the U.S., 63 patients are being monitored for signs of the illness, according to the CDC. Arwady declined to say if any of those patients are residents of Chicago or Illinois. 

“Even with the Chicago case, the risk to the general public remains low in Chicago and the United States,” Arwady said.

Hundreds of cases have been confirmed in China, according to the CDC, which is sending a team to assist CDPH and state officials in their investigation of the confirmed case in Chicago.

A few days after returning to the U.S., the Chicago woman began experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to health officials, who declined to provide specific details about the patient. “We are confident she was not at-risk while traveling,” Arwady said. If patients aren’t showing symptoms, “the CDC doesn’t believe patients are contagious, based on other (similar) viruses.”

Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses that range from the common cold to more serious illnesses, like SARS and MERS, and are generally spread via droplets in the air when people cough or sneeze, as happens with the common cold, according to officials. The Illinois Department of Public Health said it’s not clear how easily the novel coronavirus spreads and that there is no treatment or vaccine for it.

To help prevent the spread of coronaviruses, officials advise avoiding people who are sick and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you haven’t washed your hands, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Since her return, the Chicago patient hasn’t taken public transportation or attended large gatherings, according to officials, who are monitoring those who have come in close contact with the patient and the health care professionals who have treated her. Health officials say they will continue to monitor the patient for symptoms, test her regularly for the virus and won’t release her until she shows no signs of the illness.

Per the CDC’s guidance, O’Hare International Airport began screening patients traveling from Wuhan for signs of illness. Such screenings are important to detect and treat people, but that’s only one part of officials’ approach, Arwady said. Health care professionals whose patients present with symptoms should inquire about recent travel history. Patients who develop symptoms after traveling should contact their doctor instead of going to a hospital, so health care providers can take proper precautions, according to Arwady.  

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addressed the CDC’s announcement at an unrelated press conference, saying public health officials are closely monitoring the situation and taking necessary precautions. 

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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