ROCHESTER, Minn. — A respiratory illness that has sickened hundreds and killed at least 17 in China has appeared in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far, an isolated case of coronavirus has been identified in Washington state in someone who had traveled to a region in China where the disease emerged.
Currently, the risk of illness coming to Minnesota is low, health experts say. Nonetheless, news that a confirmed case has reached the continent has triggered some local notice.
The Olmsted County disease prevention and control team met Wednesday morning to discuss emergency response and make sure area hospitals are aware of the CDC’s alert about the virus.
“It’s not because we expect to see cases here,” said Graham Briggs, Olmsted County director of Public Health Services. “We want to stay three steps ahead.”
Public health officials at local levels across the country are likely having similar conversations, Briggs added.
The level of risk is currently “negligible,” he added. However, that could change rapidly.
“If we see multiple people catch this virus from this first case, that’s another level of risk,” Briggs said.
The CDC alert included a travel advisory for Americans traveling to Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where the outbreak originated and the virus was first identified.
In a statement in response to the CDC’s advisory, Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, said the virus is in the same family as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and that respiratory precautions against those viruses have been effective.
“(W)ash your hands, stay away from ill people, wear a mask, and remain at home if you're feeling ill," said Dr. Poland.
Briggs said he and the rest of the disease prevention and control team will continue to watch the situation in Washington. Wednesday’s team conversation was likely not their last about the virus. It might seem early, he added, but that’s when those meetings should happen.
“It’s a really scary virus that’s a long ways away,” he said. “That’s when you want to have that first conversation, when it’s very early and the risk is very low.”