The widespread coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of people around the world and killed 361 has reached Santa Clara County, where two people have tested positive for the disease, according to the county's Public Health Department.
Coronavirus, better known as "novel coronavirus," is a respiratory illness that has been reportedly linked to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan City, China, but has since been passed between people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath that appear two to 14 days after exposure. It can lead to pneumonia and, in some infections, death.
County public health leaders alerted the public to the first case on Friday and the second on Sunday; the cases don't appear to be related.
County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody said during a press conference on Friday afternoon that in the first case, a man arrived from China on Jan. 24 at the Mineta San Jose International Airport and immediately isolated himself at home. He became ill after his return. He had been traveling in China and had been to Wuhan and Shanghai, Cody said.
The man only left his home twice to seek medical attention at a local medical clinic and a hospital, where he received outpatient care. Cody declined to identify the medical facilities or what city he lives in. He was never sick enough to require hospitalization, she added.
The man had little contact with others during his trip back to the U.S., potentially airline employees, medical center staff and household members, Cody said.County health officials are working to identify who he came into contact with and to monitor them while they remain in self-isolation for 14 days.
"We're quite lucky in this case that the list of contacts is very short," she said.
The second case was reported on Sunday. A woman came to the county from Wuhan on Jan. 23 to visit family and has stayed at the home since her arrival, with the exception of two occasions when she sought outpatient medical care, public health staff said. Her family members have also been isolated and have received food and other necessities through the Public Health Department.
"She has been regularly monitored and was never sick enough to be hospitalized," the department stated in a press release.
There have been two cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease in the U.S., according to multiple media outlets, which report a total of 11 cases in the country. One case was recently found to have been transmitted in Illinois between spouses and another also between spouses in San Benito County, which is south of Gilroy.
"Based on what we know today, the risk to (the) general public remains low," Cody said in a press release on Sunday. "A second case is not unexpected. With our large population and the amount of travel to China for both personal and business reasons, we will likely see more cases, including close contacts to our cases."
When people are required to be in isolation, they can be watched in one of two ways: by a family member or, if there isn't one, through public resources, she said.
Cody stressed that there is much still unknown about this strain of coronavirus, hence it is called "novel." She warned the public to take precautions to stay at home if they are ill and to seek medical care. Everyone should be vaccinated for the flu, which is still circulating and has similar symptoms to the novel coronavirus.
"We know we have 36,000 deaths from influenza in the United States every year," she said. It's far more likely for people to become sickened by the flu, she added.
In January, the Public Health Department activated its Emergency Operations Center to provide regular communications to the public and health care providers and to handle reports of potential novel coronavirus infection.
On Tuesday, the county Public Health Department announced five workers from Good Samaritan
Hospital in San Jose were sent home after it determined they were exposed to coronavirus and were instructed to stay home until Feb. 11.
Department leaders said the workers were sent home to protect the public and reduce the chance the virus spreads.
The situation is rapidly changing, so the public is encouraged to visit the Public Health Department's website for updated local information at sccphd.org/coronavirus. The CDC has more information about novel coronavirus that can be found here.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.