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WHO declares global health emergency over coronavirus spread

The U.S. has its first case of infection by human-to-human contact, CDC has confirmed.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The World Health Organization today declared the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today confirmed its first case of the spread of the coronavirus by person-to-person contact, bringing the total number of cases in this country to six.

In all of the other five cases, the virus was linked to travel to China.

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In Chicago, the husband of one of the patients with the coronavirus has also been diagnosed with the illness, according to NBC News. The wife had been caring for her father in Wuhan, China, earlier this month.

The immediate risk to the American public is low, said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, according to the report.

There are now 7,711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases throughout China, according to WHO. Of the confirmed cases, 1,370 are severe and 170 people have died. Another 124 people have recovered and have been discharged from hospital.

In 18 other countries, there are now 82 cases. Of these, only seven had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in three countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.

WHY THIS MATTERS

WHO made the decision to declare a global health emergency after declining to take that step during its first meeting on January 22.

It is being declared now in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases, WHO said.

It is still possible to interrupt the virus' spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk, according to WHO.

Among efforts to control the outbreak, a forthcoming WHO multidisciplinary technical mission to China, including national experts, are expected to investigate the animal source of the outbreak, to rule out ongoing hidden transmission.

The outbreak that began in December is linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China. The market was closed on January 1.

THE LARGER TREND

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Other coronaviruses are SARS and MERS.

No vaccine or specific treatment for 2019-nCoV infection is available; care is supportive.

WHO said measures to ensure rapid development and access to potential vaccines, diagnostics, antiviral medicines and other therapeutics for low- and middle-income countries should be developed.

All countries should be prepared for containment, WHO said.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com