Coronavirus In The U.S.: What Federal Agencies Are Doing : Shots - Health News With cases growing quickly abroad, the federal government announced several measures to prevent the new coronavirus from taking hold in the U.S.
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As China's Coronavirus Cases Rise, U.S. Agencies Map Out Domestic Containment Plans

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As China's Coronavirus Cases Rise, U.S. Agencies Map Out Domestic Containment Plans

As China's Coronavirus Cases Rise, U.S. Agencies Map Out Domestic Containment Plans

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Chinese officials reported a huge jump in cases of the newly discovered coronavirus. More than 4,500 people have been infected around the world, the vast majority of them in China. The State Department and health officials are now asking Americans to avoid travel to China if at all possible. There's one exception, though. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are eager to get a team of investigators into China, as NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Back in 2003, when an outbreak of a similar coronavirus - SARS - started spreading in Guangdong province, the Chinese government kept it a secret until it spilled out across its borders. Their response to the new coronavirus doesn't compare, says Alex Azar, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ALEX AZAR: Having lived through the SARS episode, I can say that the - the posture of the Chinese government levels of cooperation and interaction with us is - is completely different from what we experienced in 2003. And I want to commend them for that.

HARRIS: For example, the Chinese government has posted the full genetic sequence of the new virus, which allowed the CDC to develop a quick and accurate test to diagnose it. Still, scientists at the CDC have been waiting for weeks for an invitation to come into China and do some firsthand research. Finally today, the World Health Organization announced that it had reached agreement with China to allow outside scientists in.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier at the CDC says one key question is whether the disease can spread from someone even before they're showing any symptoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NANCY MESSONNIER: That's something we're watching closely. And obviously, as more information becomes available, we would have to change our operations if indeed that was a significant issue.

HARRIS: During the SARS epidemic, scientists found that only people with symptoms spread the virus. That made it much easier to keep the disease in check. If people without symptoms can spread the disease, health officials would need to expand their monitoring efforts.

At a news conference today where these federal health officials spoke, Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health offered a bit of perspective on this question.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ANTHONY FAUCI: Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person.

HARRIS: Fauci says U.S. scientists are eager to get into China in order to understand not only how the epidemic is unfolding there but to understand the virus itself. That could help in developing new drugs as well as laying the groundwork for a future vaccine.

The natural history of this new virus is not an idle question for Americans living in Wuhan, where the outbreak is worst. Some, including U.S. diplomats and their families, are being airlifted out. There's concern for their well-being but also questions about whether they could pose a health risk to others when they return. Secretary Azar skirted that question when asked at today's news conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

AZAR: We will be heavily engaged with that flight and the transport of those individuals. They'll be screened, evaluated constantly. There will be physicians on the flight. And we'll take whatever the appropriate evidence-based public health measures are with them, as we would in any other situation.

HARRIS: Right now, travelers returning from China in good health are mostly told to keep a sharp eye out for symptoms and to report any immediately to a doctor. But as health officials keep saying, this is a rapidly evolving situation, and recommendations are always subject to change.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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