Coronavirus Declared Global Health Emergency as First Human-to-Human Transmission Occurs in US

The US now has 11 confirmed cases—and experts say the number may continue to rise.

News surrounding the novel coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China worsened Thursday, after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (PHEIC)—just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first person-to-person transmission of the virus in the US.

The PHEIC announcement took place during a second meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), in which the committee declared the new coronavirus as a global health emergency. The news came just hours after the CDC confirmed the first person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus—and the sixth confirmed case of of the new coronavirus—in the US.

According to The New York Times, the US patient is a male in his 60s and the spouse of the Chicago woman who was confirmed to have the coronavirus after returning home from a trip to Wuhan, China in January. Officials from the Illinois Department of Health said that the new patient is currently in good condition despite “some underlying medical conditions.” The woman, who was the second person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus, is still in isolation at a local hospital, but is also reportedly doing well.

This new development in the US, however, means it's at least the fifth country where the new coronavirus is spreading via human-to-human contact. As well as China, cases of person-to-person transmission have been confirmed in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan.

In China alone, there are currently 7,111 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases across the country, according to the WHO. Of those confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. Worldwide, there are 82 confirmed coronavirus cases, across 18 countries—and seven of those confirmed cases are reported to have been via human-to-human transmission, as those patients had no history of travel in China.

In the US specifically, including the six currently confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, 165 people have been investigated for the virus—68 of which tested negative, with 91 people still awaiting results. In Illinois in particular, where the most recent coronavirus case was confirmed, 21 patients are being closely monitored for signs of the infection. Still, state health officials stressed that the risk to the Illinois general public remains low, per The New York Times.

Overall—with the news of the novel coronavirus being classified as a PHEIC and the first person-to-person transmission in the US—officials say the news is quite concerning. "This is a very serious public health situation," Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told CNBC. “Moving forward, we can expect to see more cases, and more cases means more potential for person-to-person spread.”

However, Messonnier stressed that it’s important to be aware that the first instance of person-to-person transmission in the US was between two people who were in close contact—which means those who haven't come into close contact with those infected with the virus are unlikely to contract it. "We understand that this may be concerning," Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The New York Times. “But our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

With information changing and being updated by the hour, it looks like everyone will be talking—and worrying—about coronavirus for some time. If you’re worried about the infection, the CDC recommends practicing proper flu season hygiene, namely frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough and staying at home when you’re sick.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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