CDC confirms the first US coronavirus case of ‘unknown’ origin. The California patient was hospitalized for days before getting tested
For the first time, a US patient has contracted novel coronavirus with no clue as to where it came from.
The California patient didn’t travel anywhere known to have the virus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. And the patient wasn’t exposed to anyone known to be infected.
That means this could be the first US case of “community spread” of the virus.
The Solano County resident was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center last week but wasn’t tested until Sunday for coronavirus, according to a letter sent Wednesday to UC Davis staff and obtained by CNN. That’s because the patient “did not fit the existing CDC criteria” for such testing, the letter said.
This case is significant, Dr. Dean Blumberg, an infectious disease specialist at UC Davis Medical Center, told CNN affiliate KCRA.
“That suggests that the virus is out there in the community, and that means pretty much that everybody’s at risk,” he said. “We don’t know who might be carrying it. We don’t know who we can get it from.”
While it’s not clear who the patient got the virus from, “that other person probably exposed other people,” Blumberg said.
“And you have to realize that this virus is so new, that none of us have any immunity to it. So, anybody who’s exposed is at high risk of getting infected with this.”
The patient is one of 60 confirmed cases of the virus in the US, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday. Forty-two cases are former passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the site of a recent virus outbreak. Most of the other 15 were travelers coming back from China or their spouses. Three others were repatriated from China.
How the California patient was exposed to the virus is still unknown, the CDC said. The agency has not yet ruled out that the patient was exposed to a returned traveler who was infected but didn’t know it, it said.
The patient was transferred February 19 to the medical center from another Northern California hospital with a suspected viral infection. UC Davis requested testing for novel coronavirus by the CDC because, the UC Davis letter says, neither the Sacramento County nor the California Department of Public Health are conducting testing.
“Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered,” the letter says. “UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.
The CDC ordered testing on Sunday and results came back positive Wednesday, the letter says.
“This is not the first COVID-19 patient we have treated, and because of the precautions we have had in place since this patient’s arrival, we believe there has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center,” the center said.
In the letter, the medical center asked a small number of employees to stay at home and monitor their temperature.
CDC says Americans’ lives may be disrupted
If the California case does turn out to be community spread, hospital staff will need to alter the way they evaluate sick patients, one health care executive said.
Hospitals receiving patients with flu-like symptoms have been asking people to detail theirtravel history or exposure to anyone who has recently traveled, Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, the chief clinical officer and executive vice president of Providence St. Joseph Health, told CNN’s Don Lemon.
“Now, we’re going to have to be thinking: How do we change that strategy? Who all do we need to be testing for coronavirus? Right now, during flu season, that would be a lot of people, and so, we need to figure out how we can scale up the testing and the screening,” she said. Providence St. Joseph Health operates 51 hospitals and more than 1,000 clinics across the country.
The CDC now says the virus is “NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States,” according to its website. But health officials say they expect it will at some point.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said.
People should understand their lives may be disrupted, she said.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.
If that’s the case, it’s “problematic” that there are only 12 US labs other than the CDC with working coronavirus test kits, Compton-Phillips said.
“There’s a very limited number of them,” she said.
US is testing treatment
Meanwhile, a clinical trial is underway at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, to evaluate how effective an antiviral drug would be on people diagnosed with coronavirus, the National Institutes of Health said.
There have been at least 82,056 confirmed cases worldwide and 2,800 deaths — the vast majority in China.
The drug being tested in the trial, remdesivir, was previously tested in humans for Ebola and in animals for MERS and SARS.
There are also clinical trials of the drug going on in China, the NIH said, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases developed the American study to match those studies.
The first participant in the Omaha trial is an American who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Participants will receive 200 milligrams of remdesivir intravenously when they’re enrolled and another 100 while they’re hospitalized for up to 10 days in total. A placebo group will receive a solution that resembles remdesivir but contains only inactive ingredients, the NIH said.
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman, Madeline Holcombe, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.