A Wisconsin resident who traveled to China contracted coronavirus, state health officials confirmed Wednesday.
The adult patient is the state’s first confirmed case of the new respiratory illness that has killed hundreds of people and sickened thousands, mostly in China. Wisconsin officials stressed the risk to the public is low.
The infected patient was evaluated in the emergency department at the University of Wisconsin Health University Hospital in Madison. But the patient’s symptoms were mild, officials said, and the patient was never admitted to the hospital.
The patient, whose age and gender were not released, is recovering at home. Health officials are reaching out individually to those who have had direct contact with the patient, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the state Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease.
Westergaard said the individual is not considered a risk to the public. Those who are at higher risk of infection from the patient, such as members of the patient's household, will be monitored and asked to stay home, Westergaard said. Others in close contact, including health care workers who treated the patient, have been contacted individually by state health officials.
"This why we say that the risk to the general population is low," he said. "We understand who the potential people are who’ve been contacted, and we asked them to be isolated."
The state has tested a total of 10 people believed to be at risk of infection from the virus, which originated in the Wuhan province of China. Seven of those tests have come back negative, and two are still pending.
There have been 12 confirmed cases of the novel virus in the United States, and the federal government has issued a travel warning recommending U.S. residents not travel to China except in essential cases.
The virus is related to viruses that cause the common cold, and it manifests in flu-like symptoms and serious respiratory illness. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, and epidemiologists have warned it could become a global pandemic. The reduction in travel is already having potential economic effects, including on Wisconsin's dairy farmers, as it takes a toll on global milk prices.
Because the disease is similar to influenza, health officials recommend the same kinds of preventive measures: frequent hand-washing, covering up coughs, staying home so as not to infect others.
Jeanne Ayers, state health officer and administrator of the DHS's Division of Public Health, said officials will reach out to those at risk, and that the public at large should not be concerned.
"We want to assure you that the risk is very low," Ayers said. "And if there was a reason to be concerned, you would hear from us."
State officials did not release the patient's home city or region.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.