U.S. health officials are currently monitoring 110 people across 26 states for the coronavirus, including the five patients who contracted the deadly infection in China and brought it back to America.
The disease, which has killed at least 81 people in China and sickened more than 2,800 worldwide, isn’t spreading within the community in the U.S. and the risk to the public right now is still considered low, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call Monday.
“We understand that many people in the United States are worried about this virus and how it will affect Americans,” Messonnier said. ”Every day we learn more, every day we assess to see if our guidance or our response can be improved.”
The number of “patients under investigation” in the U.S. has almost doubled from the 63 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said were under surveillance on Thursday. The CDC says 32 people have tested negative for the virus.
The CDC confirmed Sunday a fifth U.S. case of the virus — a patient in Maricopa County, Arizona who recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the disease’s outbreak and where the majority of cases have been reported.
The CDC is continuing to screen travelers at major airports in California, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. It has screened roughly 2,400 people at U.S. airports so far, Messonnier said. The agency also increased its travel warning for all of China, asking people traveling to practice “enhanced precautions.”
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually infect animals but can sometimes evolve and spread to humans. Symptoms in humans include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which can progress to pneumonia. Physicians have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of SARS, which had a short incubation period of two to seven days.
U.S. officials reiterated Monday that symptoms from the new virus, temporarily named 2019-nCoV, may take up to 14 days to appear. The CDC is trying to speed up testing and to get the tests in the hands of state health officials. It currently takes the CDC about four to six hours to make a diagnosis once a sample makes it to its lab.
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus was infectious during incubation, unlike the 2003 outbreak of SARS, Reuters reported.
On Monday, the CDC said it hasn’t seen “any evidence of patients being infection before onset.”
U.S. health officials have warned that the flu or other respiratory illnesses could complicate identifying more cases. They recommend that people call a health-care provider before seeking treatment so the appropriate measures can be put in place.
The WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is traveling to Beijing to meet with government and health officials. According to the organization, more data needs to be collected before the virus, which can spread through human-to-human contact, is declared a global health emergency. WHO declined at two emergency meetings last week to say it was a worldwide emergency.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.