The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern at a news conference in Geneva on Thursday.
The organization defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
The announcement came just hours after U.S. officials confirmed its first human-to-human transmission of the virus.
According to reports, the patient is the husband of a Chicago woman who brought the infection back from Wuhan, China. The wife, a woman in her 60s, had traveled to Wuhan, China, and was diagnosed with the virus last week. The husband, also in his 60s and who has underlying health problems, had not traveled to China.
“The risk to the general public in Illinois remains low,” state health officials stressed. They said that they do not believe the virus is spreading widely in communities and are working to ensure health care workers at the hospital where the patient is being treated are protected.
Cases of human-to-human transmission previously have been reported outside of China, in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The virus has now killed at least 171 people in China and has now spread to at least 18 other countries. However, there has been no deaths outside of China.
In the press conference in Geneva, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the worrisome spread of the virus between people outside China.
”Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” he said. “This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China…on the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak,” he said.
In the United States, 165 people are under investigation for the new coronavirus. Of those individuals, 68 have tested negative and six have tested positive. The remaining individuals’ tests are in transit or have pending results.
Twenty American airports are screening passengers for signs of sickness and distributing educational materials the signs of coronavirus to people returning from China.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause a range of symptoms including a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some are mild, such as the common cold, while others are more likely to lead to pneumonia. They’re usually spread through direct contact with an infected person. The coronavirus gets its name from the crown-like spikes on its surface, according to the CDC.
Those that have traveled to Wuhan, China and have flu-like symptoms are encouraged to call the health district at 979-361-4440. Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat. If medical care is needed, please call your healthcare provider first before arriving. Nonessential travel to Wuhan, China should be avoided.
The general public is encouraged to practice general preventive actions:
• Everyone 6 months and older is encouraged to get a flu shot.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
For more information visit the CDC website: