CDC reports first travel-related case in U.S. of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in traveler from Wuhan, China

ATTENTION: This is a news report about the ongoing outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). For comprehensive and updated information about this outbreak, see our 2019-nCoV advisories page. For more recent news items about 2019-nCoV, see our latest updates on the news page. 


What is happening?

On Tuesday, January 21, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first U.S. case of a coronavirus (2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV) that originated last month in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The patient had returned to Washington State last week from a trip to Wuhan, where 300 confirmed infections and several deaths have occurred. Thailand, Japan, and South Korea have also reported a handful of cases, all connected to travel from Wuhan. [January 24 update: A second U.S. case has been confirmed in Chicago, Illinois, and three cases have been confirmed in France.]

Reports suggest that 2019-nCoV was initially spread from animal-to-person. Currently, there are growing indications that there is limited person-to-person spread, though it is unclear how easily this may be happening.

The Washington State patient’s illness was identified and confirmed because the patient sought care at a medical facility in Washington State and informed healthcare providers of their travel to Wuhan. Based on the patient’s travel history and symptoms, healthcare professionals suspected this new coronavirus and sent a sample to CDC, which quickly confirmed the diagnosis.

CDC has been working with healthcare professionals across the United States, including Hawaii, to prepare for the introduction of 2019-nCoV in the coming weeks, including the following:

  • First alerting clinicians on January 8, 2020, to be on the look-out for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan, China.
  • Developing guidance for clinicians for testing and management of 2019-nCoV, as well as guidance for home care of patients with 2019-nCoV.
  • Developing a diagnostic test to detect this virus in patient samples, significantly shortening the time it takes to detect infection.
  • On January 17, 2020, CDC began implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports.
  • CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the 2019-nCoV response.

Starting this week, CDC will add entry health screening for travelers from Wuhan at two more airports — Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

CDC has been working with Chinese health officials and the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak in Wuhan. They are also working closely with Washington State and local partners in response to the case in Washington State. A CDC team has been deployed to support the ongoing investigation there, including tracing close contacts to determine if anyone else has become ill.

Coronaviruses circulate in animals, including camels, cats, and bats, but they can sometimes evolve and infect people. This is what happened with MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Most of those affected by this new coronavirus were linked to a large seafood and animal market, likely through animal-to-person spread; the market has since been closed to slow spread of the virus.

However, some confirmed patients were not exposed to animal markets, so there are concerns of limited person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur via respiratory droplets with close contacts, similar to influenza (the flu) and other respiratory pathogens.

While some 2019-nCoV patients have had severe illness and several deaths have occurred, other patients have had milder illness and been discharged. Symptoms associated with this virus have included fever, cough, and trouble breathing. Confirmation that some limited person-to-person spread with this virus is occurring in Asia raises the level of concern about this virus, but U.S. health officials continue to believe the risk of 2019-nCoV to the American public at large remains low at this time.

What can you do?

Location of Wuhan in central China

Travelers to Wuhan are advised to do the following:

  • Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

If you have traveled to Wuhan and feel sick, you should do the following:

  • Stay home. Except for seeking medical care, avoid contact with others.
  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) also recommends all persons get vaccinated for influenza (“the flu”). With current seasonal influenza activity, it is likely that there will be confusion as persons with influenza will exhibit similar signs and symptoms to 2019-nCoV, such as fever and cough. Preventing the flu with vaccination will reduce the number of flu cases in Hawaii clinics and hospitals. DOH strongly recommends that residents 6 months and older protect themselves against flu by receiving the seasonal influenza vaccination.

For more information, including information for clinicians and public health professionals, please go to the following DOH and CDC webpages: