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Chicago coronavirus patient infected spouse; first person-to-person case in U.S.

'No need for general public to change their behavior' Chicago Department of Health says

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady (center) speaks at a news conference Thursday in Chicago, where it was announced that the first U.S. case of person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus from China involves the man married to the Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from a trip to Wuhan, China. With Arwady is Dr. Terry Mason, Cook County Department of Public Health chief operating officer (left) and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady (center) speaks at a news conference Thursday in Chicago, where it was announced that the first U.S. case of person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus from China involves the man married to the Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from a trip to Wuhan, China. With Arwady is Dr. Terry Mason, Cook County Department of Public Health chief operating officer (left) and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

CHICAGO – A second person has been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Chicago, health officials said Thursday, and it is the first U.S. case of the virus spreading person-to-person.

The second patient is the husband of a woman who caught the disease after traveling to Wuhan, China.

The latest case is the sixth in the U.S. The other five U.S. cases were travelers who developed the respiratory illness after returning to the U.S. from China. The latest patient had not been to China. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency Thursday afternoon.

The Chicago woman came back from the central China city of Wuhan on Jan. 13, then last week went to a hospital and was diagnosed with the viral illness. She and her husband, both in their 60s, are hospitalized. Neither has been identified. Wuhan coronavirus symptoms are often described as "flu-like," and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The man was placed in a respiratory airborne isolation room when he began showing symptoms Tuesday. Testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday night that he had contracted the virus.

Illinois health officials are investigating 21 possible cases of the virus in the state, but say the current risk to people here is minimal.

“The health to the general public from novel coronavirus remains low at this time," said Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “Chicago and Illinois have been building our public health preparedness systems for years. We have a solid response plan in place. There is no need for the general public to change their behavior in any way based on today’s news.”

Arwady said the second patient did not use public transportation and had not attended any large gatherings in recent weeks.

Additionally, health officials don't believe patients are contagious until they begin to show symptoms.

After the man’s wife was diagnosed with coronavirus, officials began monitoring the man closely, along with any other contacts who might have interacted with the woman. Arwady said officials are keeping a close eye on anyone who was in close contact with both patients.

“We assess these contacts, continue to follow up with each contact every day to monitor for any new symptoms,” Arwady said. “We focus on limiting the spread of disease. We work in coordination with federal, state and many local public health partners to identify close contacts of any confirmed case, as well as the health care workers.”

A La Salle County Health Department official said the agency is briefed daily by the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health, and that the agency is monitoring the situation closely. 

“We’re in constant communication with our working partners and based on what the CDC is saying, people have developed mild to severe respiratory illness,” La Salle County Health Department spokeswoman Jenny Barrie said. 

Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru is screening patients for signs of the virus and directing anyone who has traveled to China and has symptoms to their emergency department.

Experts have said they expected additional U.S. cases, and that at least some limited spread of the disease in the country was likely.

“We anticipated this,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert. “The kind of contact that you have in a household is very close and very prolonged. That’s the kind of circumstance where we would anticipate a virus such as this could be transmitted."

The quick detection and isolation of the new patient shows "the system is working,” Schaffner said, adding that he does not expect the virus to become widespread in the country.

The virus is a member of the coronavirus family that's a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. The new virus has sickened thousands, mostly in China, and killed about 170. It is believed symptoms appear between two to 14 days after exposure.

Older people and those with existing health conditions are believed to be at greater risk of severe illness from the virus. The new patient has an existing health condition, but health officials did not say what it is.

An international outbreak caused by the virus first emerged last month in China. Doctors there began seeing the virus in people who got sick after spending time at a wholesale food market in Wuhan. Officials said the virus likely initially spread from animals to people, as did SARS and MERS.

The other U.S. cases are in Arizona, Southern California, and Washington state.

RaeAnn VanGundy, a spokeswoman for the Kendall County Health Department, said there were no reported or suspected cases in Kendall County as of Thursday afternoon.

Hospital staff at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb said they're prepared in the event coronavirus hits the county.

The hospital is also equipped with anterooms – special rooms with private doors into patient rooms that allow doctors, nurses and visitors to don gloves, masks and gowns before entering a potentially infectious area – and that precautions are taken prior to diagnosis to prevent any potential spread.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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