A Maryland resident has met the criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for a coronavirus first reported in China.
The person is in good condition and will be monitored while they await test results from the CDC, according to a press release from the Maryland Department of Health issued late Monday. The health department did not disclose the location of the person being tested in its press release.
But just because a person is being tested does not mean they have the disease, according to Dr. Randall Culpepper, deputy health officer and medical director with the Frederick County Health Department.
More likely than not, the person will not have a positive test result, Culpepper said, noting that the CDC has confirmed only five cases. As of 9 p.m. Monday, the CDC has tested 37 specimens for the 2019-nCov, with 73 others pending.
Of the 110 people tested, the majority traveled to China or were in contact with someone who recently traveled to the country, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said in a press call Monday.
“However, because there is so much unknown, we are being cautious about testing and being responsive to the concerns of the clinicians and the health department. The decision about whether the patient gets tested is a joint decision between the clinician, the health department and CDC,” Messonnier said.
There are no confirmed cases of the disease in Maryland, according to the state health department.
“The Maryland Department of Health is closely monitoring the rapidly changing situation with the 2019 nCoV, both in the U.S. and in China,” Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips said in a statement.
When a person shows symptoms of the coronavirus, which include fever, cough and trouble breathing, and that person has traveled recently from China, their health care provider will inform the local health department, Culpepper said. That health department will then notify the CDC. Specimens from the person will be taken and sent to the CDC for testing, Culpepper said.
The CDC has developed a diagnostic test for 2019 coronavirus, with plans to distribute it to state laboratories to allow them to test locally for the disease, Messonnier said. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly, with more than 2,800 cases globally now when there were only 100 to 200 last week, Culpepper said.
“That’s pretty remarkable,” he said.
So far, there have been 81 deaths from the disease globally. The new disease is novel, meaning there has not been another disease like it seen. But coronaviruses are not unheard of, Culpepper said, adding that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a type of coronavirus.
The CDC did not suspect that the disease had begun to mutate, Messonnier said. The incubation period is about two to 14 days. At this point, the CDC is not clear if a person can spread the infection while asymptomatic. There has been no human-to-human transmission in the United States so far.
Right now, those with the disease might be treated with Tamiflu, the antiviral medication given to those with the flu, but it is not known if it helps. Otherwise, people are told to rest, drink fluids and try to keep as healthy as possible so that they do not develop another illness, such as pneumonia, he said.
As a precaution, the CDC also recommends that people not travel to Hubei province in China unless it is essential.
And although a person in Maryland us being tested for the disease, it is too early to be alarmed, Culpepper said. As of Monday, the coronavirus was a low risk for the average American, he said. Culpepper was more concerned about influenza. As of Jan. 18, there have been 16,766 confirmed cases of influenza in Maryland alone, with 15 deaths.
Since the disease recently appeared, there is not much information about it, including how to best treat it or its reproduction rate. A reproduction rate is how many people one person can infect. The rate so far is between two and three, Culpepper said.
Comparatively, influenza’s reproduction rate can range from 0.9 to 2.1, according to a 2009 journal article. Measles has a reproduction rate of 13 to 15, Culpepper said.
“I would expect to see cases in the D.C. region because we have a very large Chinese population and unless any of the virus transmission properties change, it will be business as usual as we monitor daily for any and all infectious diseases, to include influenza, measles, Zika, foodborne gastrointestinal diseases, legionnaires, community acquired pneumonia in our long term care facilities, sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis c, HIV, and more,” Culpepper said in a text statement. “So, right now, there are many many disease threats to our community that we constantly have in our surveillance system.”
But the flu is around every year, which means people are less likely to pay attention to it despite the greater risk. It is “old news,” Culpepper said.
“How many times can we tell them to get vaccinated,” he said.
People are more likely to pay attention to the novel coronavirus rather than the flu, which is confirmed in Maryland, because it is new, Culpepper said. Diseases like this are often popularized in movies.
“It’s new and it’s scary,” he said.