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US CDC Warns It Expects Coronavirus to Spread in U.S.

21:25  25 february  2020
21:25  25 february  2020 Source:   online.wsj.com

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Federal health authorities said they now expect a wider spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S. and are preparing for a potential pandemic.

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday that the agency expects sustained spread and called for American businesses, schools and communities to brace themselves for potential outbreaks.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Messonnier. “It’s more of a question of when.”

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In the U.S., there have been 14 confirmed local cases, with an additional three cases among the passengers from the U.S. chartered flights and 40 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the immediate threat to the general public in the U.S. is still low.

So far, public-health systems have sought to contain any cases in the U.S. to delay the virus’s spread. The effort consists of isolating confirmed cases, while monitoring close contacts for any signs of infection.

This strategy is most effective when the case count is relatively low and each case can be epidemiologically linked to each other and traced back to an original source, public-health authorities say.

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That is the situation currently, with the confirmed cases within the U.S. occurring among people who had recently traveled to China, were a close contact of a case or were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

If the virus spreads more widely throughout the U.S., it might become difficult or impossible to contain it with the current methods, public-health authorities say. Rather, efforts would shift to strategies designed to stem the virus’s transmission, such as closing schools, canceling mass gatherings and requiring employees work from home.

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“The disruption of daily life might be severe,” Dr. Messonnier said.

So far, health authorities have tested a total of 426 people in the U.S. for the virus, not including those who have been repatriated.

Meantime, many state and local health departments in the U.S. don’t have the test kits they need to rapidly diagnose coronavirus infections because federal health authorities are still working out kinks.

The limited availability of the tests could hamstring local efforts to handle an anticipated rise in the number of U.S. cases, public-health and hospital officials said.

Testing for the virus has been relatively slow because most local health officials must ship patient samples to the CDC in Atlanta and isolate patients under investigation while waiting for the results. That can take days. To speed up diagnoses, the CDC wants to send test kits to state and local health departments.

a person sitting on a stage in front of a laptop © amanda voisard/Reuters But the rollout stalled earlier this month after the kits produced inconclusive results during verification testing at state and local health departments.

“We still do not know when the CDC kit replacements will come out, and our members are pretty anxious about it,” said Scott Becker, chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.  “It doesn’t feel like a good place to be.”

The CDC said it is working to re-manufacture the reagent, the substance used in a chemical reaction in the test, that is suspected to be at fault for the inconclusive results and send out replacements.

Twelve states and localities are now testing for the virus themselves.

In the U.S., there have been 14 confirmed locally diagnosed cases, with an additional three cases among the Americans who returned from China aboard U.S.-chartered flights and 40 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia.

Write to Brianna Abbott at brianna.abbott@wsj.com

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