Update: first U.S. case of coronavirus in Washington State as numbers rise to almost 300 with six deaths

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      Update (January 21):

      The first North American case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in Seattle, Washington.

      At airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, travellers from Wuhan, China, will be taken to a separate area to complete a questionnaire and be checked for fever with thermal scanners that will detect signs of illness. 

      Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told media on January 20 that the virus should be taken seriously but that there isn't reason for excessive concern or panic. Tam confirmed that three possible cases of travellers arriving in Canada from Wuhan were investigated on January 20 but were determined not to be ill due to the coronavirus.  

      Vancouver International Airport is adding messages on arrival screens and a health screening question at electronic arrival kiosks.

      The death toll in China has been reported to have increased to six people. By the end of January 20, 291 cases had been confirmed by China's National Health Commission. 

      Today, both the Philippines and Taiwan reported their first suspected cases.

      The B.C. health ministry issued a statement today, explaining that the province has a diagnostic test for the virus and has made health preparations at the Vancouver International Airport. 

      Update (January 20): CBC News reported that a Chinese government respiratory expert stated that human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus has been confirmed.

      China's Xinhua News Agency reported that the number of cases has increased to a total of 224 cases of pneumonia of new coronavirus infection reported in China, including 217 confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. on January 20 (Beijing time). There are also 14 medical staff who have been infected in China.

      Chinese authorities have confirmed that a fourth person, who had underlying diseases, had died on January 19.

      An additional case in Thailand has been reported, bringing the total outside of China to four, with two in Thailand, one in South Korea, and one in Japan.

      Original article (January 19):

      With the Lunar New Year approaching on January 25, people around the world will be celebrating while visiting friends and families. However, the rise of a new virus in China has raised concerns about travellers carrying the virus. 

      On January 17, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) updated a travel health advisory (originally issued on January 7) which explains that a cluster of pneumonia cases of an unknown cause were reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31.

      As of January 12, there were 41 confirmed cases in China. However, CBC News reported on January 19 that the total number of infections has risen to over 200 cases.

      Three individuals, including one who had serious underlying medical conditions, have since died in China.

      On January 14, Thailand reported its first confirmed case followed by Japan on January 16 with its first case, both involving travellers arriving from Wuhan.

      Then on January 19, South Korea reported its first case, also involving a traveller from Wuhan.

      Symptoms have included fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

      Health information has confirmed that a new coronavirus is the probable cause. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses, ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirous (SARS-CoV) or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

      While there aren’t any treatments for human coronaviruses, the majority of people with common coronaviruses recover on their own. However, those with compromised immune systems, including the elderly or those with chronic disease, may be at higher risk for severe disease.

      Most cases of this new coronavirus have been traced to Huanan Seafood Market (also known as Wuhan South China Seafood City and South China Seafood Wholesale Market) in Wuhan.

      The market was closed on January 1 for cleaning and disinfection. 

      However, some cases have not been connected to this market and the source of the virus still remains undetermined.

      PHAC states that so far, there hasn’t been any evidence supporting spread of the virus from person to person, but limited spread between people remains a possibility.

      The health agency also stated that the risk to Canadians who visit Wuhan is assessed at low.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control similarly stated in a bulletin on January 16 that the risk to Canadians remains low.

      However, it is asking B.C. clinicians to remain alert for and notify medical health officers about cases imported into the province by identifying patients with fever and acute respiratory illness who visited Wuhan within 14 days of symptom onset or any other relevant exposure, such as close contact with someone who travelled there.

      In a travel advisory, PHAC advises travellers that spending time in large crowds can increase chances of becoming sick. It also identifies high-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets, or places of animal slaughter.

      Avoiding contact with live or dead animals, including pigs, chickens, ducks, or wild birds; surfaces with animal secretions or droppings; and sick people is also recommended.

      Canada doesn’t have any direct flight from Wuhan but does have connecting flights.

      Any airline travellers who feel sick during their flight or upon arrival are asked to inform a flight attendant or a Canadian border services officer.

      CTV News reported that the PHAC will be adding additional measures, including electronic kiosks updated with a new health question and warning signs at airports in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

      PHAC is working with the World Health Organization and other international partners to monitor the situation and gather information.

      Canadians who are travelling to or from China should read the PHAC travel advisory for Wuhan.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook