CDC to providers on coronavirus: 'Have a high index of suspicion'

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In a call with reporters Jan. 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a total of five cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus have been detected in the U.S. so far with two cases in California, one in Arizona, one in Illinois and one in Washington. (CDC.gov)

Federal officials are urging providers to monitor patients for potential symptoms of the coronavirus that has sparked an outbreak in China—and to quickly report any suspicions of disease. 

In a call with reporters Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a total of five cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus have been detected in the U.S. so far with two cases in California, one in Arizona, one in Illinois and one in Washington.

So far, 80 people have died and there have been more than 2,700 confirmed cases of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, CNN reported.

Officials said they do not have evidence the virus is spreading in the U.S. and that all cases of the disease were in people who recently traveled to Wuhan, but they warned it is likely more cases will be reported in the coming days.

"The threat to the general American public is low at this time, but the threat is serious and our public health response is aggressive," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Our guidance and approach may need to be modified.” 

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In all, more than 100 patients are under investigation over provider concerns they could have the virus, and 26 of those cases have since been ruled out through diagnostic tests.

"Since we’ve announced the first state, multiple states and clinicians have reached out," Messonnier said. "We are getting calls all day, all night from clinicians. That’s what we want. We want people to have a high index of suspicion and to call if they have a patient they are concerned about.” 

Chinese officials warned that the virus can be spread before any symptoms appear. Messonnier acknowledged the situation was rapidly evolving and that the CDC had seen reports out of China.

"We at CDC don’t have any clear evidence of patients being infectious before symptom onset but we are actively investigating that possibility," she said. "That is part of the reason we are working with state health partners to investigate close contacts.”  

On Friday, the CDC posted the entire genetic sequence of the virus from the first patient detected to have the illness in Washington for researchers across the U.S. to examine and compare against the genetic sequence of the virus that was originally detected in Wuhan.

CDC officials said they are working to develop rapid lab diagnostic testing that will first be available at the CDC but also made available at the state and local levels. But it could take a few weeks, Messonnier said. 

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Some hospitals around the U.S. are adding additional screening measures for coronavirus.

"If you are a healthcare provider, be on the lookout out for people with travel history to Wuhan China and fever and respiratory symptoms," she said. "If you are a healthcare provider caring for a 2019 novel coronavirus patient, please take care of yourself and follow recommended infection control procedures."

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