Going Viral

The Wuhan Coronavirus Just Reached Washington. Corona-what?

Here's what you need to know about the first documented U.S. case of the potentially deadly virus.

By Marisa Comeau-Kerege January 21, 2020

A Snohomish County man is being treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.

From the Department of Bad News: A Snohomish County man is the first confirmed U.S. case of the Wuhan coronavirus, the respiratory infection that has killed six people and sickened almost 300 more in China. The Washington man was hospitalized with pneumonia symptoms Sunday after visiting the Chinese city of Wuhan. (He's currently isolated and in good condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, according to The Seattle Times.) Today, the CDC announced that he tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus infection. Uh, the corona-what, exactly?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses common in animals and, in rare cases, can cross over to humans. According to the CDC, scientists know of seven different coronaviruses that make people sick. Many of these viruses cause mild symptoms. But more recent coronaviruses, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that hit Asia in the early 2000s, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) that broke out in 2012, have given rise to more severe illnesses than their predecessors. This new virus strain is in the same family as SARS and MERS.

Initially, symptoms are similar to a common cold but escalate over time, often leading to difficulty breathing and fever, especially for those with compromised immune systems. The virus's spread is still being investigated. Though it may have stemmed from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, an exact specimen hasn’t been found, and some patients are reporting no contact with any markets, according to the CDC. That suggests person-to-person spread is happening.

Since the start of the virus’s spread in December, nearly 300 cases have been reported in China. Most of these patients lived in or traveled to Wuhan, a city of about 11 million located 700 miles south of Beijing. The new virus has already made its way to Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea.

The National Institutes of Health and other teams are already working on a vaccine, thanks to Chinese researchers who published the virus’s genome online. Still, clinical trials wouldn’t start on any potential vaccine for at least a few months, and a working vaccine might not be available for another year-plus, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director.

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