Confirmed coronavirus cases boomed this week as China altered its method for counting, but thus far the death rate from the disease remains far below the SARS epidemic that rattled the global health system almost two decades ago.
Also Thursday, U.S. health officials confirmed a 15th U.S. case.
The death toll from the new coronavirus that surfaced in China late last year rose to 1,370 on Thursday. All but three of the deaths have been in mainland China.
China previously only counted cases confirmed when a person tested positive for the virus. Chest imaging and other medical diagnoses are now included.
“While this may be a sensitive technique to look for an infection with the new coronavirus, it may also identify patients with other similar viral illnesses including the flu, artificially inflating the actual number of cases,” said Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
Glatter said the coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, is proving difficult to contain.
“The lack of reliable information combined with a highly transmissible virus is problematic, to say the very least,” Glatter said. “Relying on health care providers to report cases – using clinical suspicion along with CT scans with certain patterns of lung inflammation – as ‘positive’” is not an ideal approach.”
Mike Ryan, who leads the World Health Organization health emergency programs, noted that public health officials around the world have been testing patients for the virus. The numbers outside China remain relatively small, he said.
He said China’s new reporting protocols could be helpful.
“This allows people to get clinical care more quickly and allows public health responses to be initiated,” Ryan said at a news conference Thursday. “I sometimes find it difficult to understand why the assumption to the awful is the one that’s accepted.”
CDC confirms 15th US case
A person under federal quarantine in Texas has been confirmed as the nation’s 15th coronavirus case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced. The patient arrived in the U.S. on Feb. 7 on a State Department-chartered flight from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China. The passengers remain quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. “The individual is currently isolated and receiving medical care at a designated hospital nearby,” CDC said in a statement.
Coronavirus death rate far below SARS – so far
WHO has estimated the mortality rate for the virus at about 2%. That compares with a 10% death rate for SARS, which killed 774 people during an outbreak in China in 2002-03.
“We are not seeing a significant shift in the pattern of mortality or severity,” Ryan said Thursday. He added that the increase in cases “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory” of the outbreak. Ryan said the coronavirus remains most problematic for older people and for men.
Japan confirms first death
Japan on Thursday confirmed its first death from the new coronavirus. One death previously was reported in the Philippines, another in Hong Kong.
Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the woman was in her 80s and lived in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo. Japan has confirmed about 250 cases of the virus, including a cruise ship where 44 more cases were confirmed Thursday. That raises the total on the Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Yokohama for a week, to 218.
The government has, however, decided to allow some elderly passengers suffering from chronic illnesses to leave the ship if they test negative for the virus.
Second American evacuee has virus
A second case of coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S. among evacuees from China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced. The person was aboard a flight from the city of Wuhan that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week, the CDC said. The patient was in isolation at a San Diego hospital, UC San Diego Health confirmed.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY; The Associated Press