Health officials investigate possible case of coronavirus in NC

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is investigating a possible case of infection in North Carolina with the newly discovered 2019 coronavirus, according to a NCDHHS news release.

If confirmed, the case will be the third in the United States and the first on the East Coast.

The person recently traveled to China and passed through Wuhan City, where the outbreak began, but had not visited the seafood and animal market that was linked to many early cases. This person arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday.

The patient reached out to their healthcare provider while traveling back to the US.

They presented with mild respiratory symptoms and are currently in good condition and being cared for in isolation at Duke University Hospital.

The patient's symptoms are "very similar to the common cold," according to Dr. Zack Moore, a state epidemiologist.

Coronavirus is part of a family of viruses, such as SARS and MERS, that frequently circulate in the US. This version of coronavirus is new and had never been seen before until the end of 2019.

"The risk to people here in North Carolina at this time is very low," Moore said.

The Division of Public Health is arranging testing for the coronavirus at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A diagnosis cannot be confirmed at this time. DHHS will update the public as soon as the results from the CDC are available.

"Although it is unlikely that this person was infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus, we are conducting testing out of an abundance of caution," said Dr. Zack Moore, State Epidemiologist. "If you haven’t traveled to Wuhan in the past two weeks, your risk of infection with this virus is very low."

The person did not have close contact with anyone after leaving the airport in  North Carolina and wore a mask the entire time while at the airport. The person was taken directly to the hospital from RDU for assessment and care using appropriate infection prevention measures.

People who were at RDU or the hospital at the same time as the person was there are not considered at risk for infection. If infection with the 2019 coronavirus is confirmed, DPH will work closely with the CDC and local partners to reach out to people who came in close contact with the person on the airline flights.

Travelers to Wuhan who develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, including cough and difficulty breathing, within 14 days of leaving Wuhan should contact their doctor right away and should call ahead before going to the clinic, urgent care or emergency room so appropriate steps can be taken to avoid exposing others.

Testing for the 2019 coronavirus is only available at the CDC currently.

The North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health is preparing to begin using the CDC-developed test to detect novel coronavirus once it is distributed to state public health laboratories. Clinicians can arrange testing through local or state public health officials for those with signs of infection and recent travel to affected areas or contact with an infected person.

DPH is working closely with the CDC, local public health partners and health care providers to evaluate this case and prepare for any future potential cases in North Carolina.

At present, the vast majority of cases have been diagnosed in people who live in or traveled to Wuhan, China.

At this time of year, respiratory illness in people in North Carolina is most likely due to infection with the flu or viruses that cause the common cold.

People should take precautions to protect themselves and others from these infections, including washing your hands, covering your cough, avoiding touching your face and making sure you have gotten your annual flu shot.

For more information about 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), visit the CDC’s website.

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