The husband of a Chicago woman sickened with the coronavirus has been diagnosed with the same illness — the first person-to-person spread in the United States, health officials said Thursday.
But those same officials were quick to say the risk of the virus spreading more widely remains low.
“This news does not change the risk to the general public nationally, across Illinois or in the Chicago area,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The new case is the sixth reported in the United States. The other five were travelers who developed the illness after returning to the U.S. from China. The latest patient had not been in China.
The local woman, who is in her 60s, returned from central China on Jan. 13, then last week went to a hospital with symptoms and was diagnosed with the viral illness. She and her husband are now both hospitalized, officials said Thursday. His condition has been stabilized; she is “doing well,” officials said.
The husband, who also is in his 60s, recently reported having symptoms and was placed into isolation at the hospital, health officials said. The test results confirming his illness came back Wednesday night from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab.
Asked whether the virus could have been transmitted from the woman to her husband before she began showing symptoms, Arwady said, “We have absolutely no reason to think that.”
“Public health officials are investigating locations where the second patient has visited in the last two weeks and any close contacts who were possibly exposed,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“We know already that, just like his wife, he has not, for example, taken the ‘L.’ He has not attended any large gatherings,” Arwady said.
There are “21 individuals [in Illinois] who are considered persons under investigation,” Ezike said. “We could see more cases among individuals who have had close contact, but I still want to reassure the public we are actively monitoring these individuals and implementing transmission precautions to minimize the risk of spread.”
Experts have said they expected additional cases, and that at least some limited spread of the disease in the United States was likely. Health officials think the new virus spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.
At a briefing last Friday, the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said: “We are likely going to see some cases among close contacts of travelers and human-to-human transmission.”
The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. It 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.
An international outbreak caused by the virus first emerged last month in China. Doctors there began seeing the new virus in people who got sick after spending time at a wholesale food market in Wuhan. Officials said the virus probably initially spread from animals to people, as did SARS and MERS.
The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a global emergency as the virus has been exported to more than a dozen countries and the number of cases spiked tenfold in a week.