The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the Seattle area this week in a man who had just returned from Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus has been ongoing since December 2019.

The coronavirus outbreak in China has resulted in dozens of cases that have been confirmed and hundreds of more people are being observed who may also be infected. At least 20 deaths have been reported from the virus.

As of Friday afternoon, health officials had diagnosed a second patient in the U.S., a Chicago woman who also had returned from Wuhan.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there were at least 63 patients in the U.S. that are being observed as possibly being infected by the virus.

Douglas Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer says the coronavirus has many different types.

“Some of which are in animals and some in humans so we’ve known about coronaviruses for a long time and they do frequently cross between people and animals,” Dannenhoffer said. “We think this virus may well have come from animals but we don’t know.”

The CDC is not sure how contagious the virus is or how serious it is but the deaths suggest it can get very serious.

“The people who have it appear to have a respiratory disease that progresses to pneumonia, so in some ways it’s like flu,” Dannenhoffer said.

The virus doesn’t appear to affect any age group more than another and there’s no specific treatment. The virus just has to run its course.

“We think there are going to be a lot of mild cases which will take nothing more than just supportive care,” Dannenhoffer said.

The CDC said the Washington man with confirmed 2019-nCoV infection, returned to the U.S. from Wuhan on Jan. 15. and sought care at a medical facility in Washington.

“While we should certainly pay attention to coronavirus, people’s biggest risk right now is still influenza and very likely there will be far more deaths from influenza than from coronavirus.”

He recommends the same precautions to prevent the coronavirus as for the flu and remember that in a global world the chance of the disease spreading is high, and wearing a well-fitting mask he says, will offer some protection, but people should use the same precautions as for the flu by staying away from sick people washing your hands regularly

“I want people to be aware that in a world where people can get from China to here in one day, the risk of spread on these things is high,” Dannenhoffer said. “And I don’t want people to panic, but be aware especially of the risks we do know about and that includes influenza.”

Dannenhoffer said people still have time to get flu shots.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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