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Saturday, February 22 Health

Yale New Haven Health screening severely ill patients for coronavirus virus

NEW HAVEN — Yale New Haven Hospital staff members are screening any patients with “an acute respiratory infection” to determine whether they have traveled to Wuhan, China, or have had contact with anyone arriving from the area, Dr. Richard Martinello, medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health, said Wednesday.

However, the chances of the disease infecting anyone in Connecticut is low at this point, Martinello said. The Yale New Haven Health System includes Yale New Haven, Bridgeport, Greenwich, Lawrence and Memorial (New London) and Westerly (R.I.) hospitals and the Northeast Medical Group.

The novel coronavirus, which has caused an outbreak of pneumonia centered in Wuhan, killing 17, was first identified in the United States in a patient in Washington state who had recently returned from the city of 11 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arriving passengers are being screened at John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports and the Chinese state media reported Wednesday the first human-to-human transmission. The CDC said it would be adding screening at Chicago’s and Atlanta’s international airports this week.

“We started last week in sending out communications very broadly to our staff … to reinforce the need and the importance of checking in with patients who are coming in with an acute respiratory infection to see if they have had travel to any of the areas that are affected,” Martinello said.

“It’s not quite clear right now whether or not there’s local transmission in areas outside of Wuhan,” he said. “Right now, we’re asking them if they’ve been to Wuhan within the 14 days before they got sick [or] if they otherwise think they’ve been exposed to anybody who’s been sick with this novel coronavirus.”

Four cases have been confirmed among Chinese travelers in South Korea, Japan and Thailand, as well as in a Taiwanese businesswoman who had returned from Wuhan. The CDC said it has developed a test to detect the new coronavirus and plans to share the tool with domestic and international partners.

Martinello said that if a patient were to come to the hospital with such an infection “we would put them into isolation,” with air vented to the outside and medical staff wearing special facemasks.

“There is no specific treatment other than what we call supportive care,” making sure the patient is getting enough oxygen and hydration. “We do not have any specific medications right now to help treat this virus and there are no vaccines.”

According to the CDC, “While severe illness, including illness resulting in several deaths, has been reported in China, other patients have had milder illness and been discharged. Symptoms associated with this virus have included fever, cough and trouble breathing.” The agency said it believes the risk “to the American public at large remains low at this time.”

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There are many coronaviruses that cause respiratory illnesses in people and animals. Such viruses that have spread from animals to humans and caused serious illness include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002-03 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Martinello said SARS affected only about 8,000 people, including hundreds in Toronto, where “it was really disruptive to the city as a whole. … Since then we haven’t seen SARS. … SARS has not re-emerged as far as anybody can tell,” he said. MERS does appear from time to time, he said. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

With the new coronavirus, “really what we’re waiting to understand is the spectrum of symptoms that it causes,” as well as the severity, Martinello said.

“While there have been people with really severe disease … I would anticipate that most people that get sick will have a full recovery,” he said. But now that the virus has been identified in Washington state, Martinello said, “this could change today, so that’s why we have to be vigilant in hospitals in particular about patients who are coming in who could potentially have this.”

The Chinese Health Commission said as of Tuesday 291 people have been infected. Guards at Wuhan’s airport pointed electronic thermometers at travelers. Several online retailers were sold out of facemasks, which were being sold for more than 10 times their original price. Users of the popular Weibo social media platform urged people to wash their hands and stay home.

The Chinese new year — the year of the rat — begins Saturday and 3 billion people are expected to travel during the 15-day celebration.

While the coronavirus has not been seen in Connecticut, the flu has accounted for 13 deaths in the state so far this season, with six in the week ending Jan. 11, according to the state Department of Public Health. About 3,300 people have tested positive for influenza in the state this season.

edward.stannard@hearstmediact.com; 203-680-9382. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Ed Stannard|Reporter

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