Hawaii doctors, health officials on high alert amid growing concerns about deadly coronavirus

Published: Jan. 23, 2020 at 11:04 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A deadly new virus from China has spread to the U.S., prompting federal officials to expand screenings for the illness at major airports across the country.

Although Honolulu’s airport still isn’t one of those, Hawaii officials are on high alert.

The state Department of Health has sent out a medical advisory to healthcare providers to take extra precautions if they come into contact with a patient who has traveled from Wuhan, China.

That’s the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak that has sickened hundreds and killed at least 18 people.

“The risk of infection here in Hawaii remains very low in our estimation. The confirmation of limited person-to-person transmission, though, does raise some concern,” said Bruce Anderson, director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Tuesday the first U.S. case of the illness in a man in Washington State who traveled from Wuhan.

Officials said there were also confirmed cases reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

A Honolulu school is also taking precautions in light of their Wuhan exchange program.

Maryknoll School has an annual student exchange program that started seven years ago. This year, they hosted two students and two teachers from Wuhan.

In a letter sent home to families, the school said:

“The students and teachers from Wuhan have been symptom-free since their arrival. We are in touch with the principal of Wuhan #1 Senior High School and there have been no reported cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus at their school.”

However, out of an abundance of caution, school officials said they were cancelling the exchange member’s remaining school activities until their departure Monday.

Meanwhile, in a sweeping step, Wuhan has halted outbound flights and trains. All public transportation will also be suspended, as China tries to stop the spread of the mysterious illness.

Honolulu doesn’t get any direct flights from Wuhan, but airport officials say there is increased vigilance of the potential threat. There is a direct flight from Shanghai to Honolulu.

“Although this particular virus is new, the general response is not new,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, medical director of the Aircraft, Rescue, Firefighting Unit. “I can say that over the years, the CDC in Hawaii, and we’re lucky to have them at the airport in Honolulu, the state health department, and the Department of Transportation has worked very well together.”

“Most of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China, have reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread,” the CDC said, in an advisory.

Symptoms of coronavirus may include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and can sometimes cause illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

“We think, based on what we’re seeing in terms of disease activity, deaths and such, while it is a serious infection, a serious virus, it does not appear to be at this point, as severe as SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) or even MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome),” said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.

The DOH advises everyone to get a flu shot as “there will likely be crossover in clinical presentation, so the more people vaccinated against flu, the more helpful that will be.”

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