DuPage health officials: We're monitoring people who were in contact with coronavirus patient

  • DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala on Wednesday addresses how officials are monitoring a "very small number" of people who may have been exposed to coronavirus. "We are not considering it to be a point of panic or alarm," she said.

    DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala on Wednesday addresses how officials are monitoring a "very small number" of people who may have been exposed to coronavirus. "We are not considering it to be a point of panic or alarm," she said. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • DuPage County Health Department spokesman Don Bolger introduces Executive Director Karen Ayala before she holds a press briefing Wednesday.

    DuPage County Health Department spokesman Don Bolger introduces Executive Director Karen Ayala before she holds a press briefing Wednesday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/30/2020 6:22 AM

DuPage County public health officials say they are closely monitoring an unspecified number of people who may have been exposed to the dangerous new coronavirus through an infected Chicago woman.

The woman had traveled to China's Wuhan region, the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 170 people in the country's mainland and sickened thousands. The woman, in her 60s, has been kept in isolation at Amita St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

 

DuPage health officials say people who have come into contact with the woman and developed symptoms have voluntarily isolated themselves at home. The department is monitoring their symptoms daily, a spokesman said.

"This is a new and rapidly changing situation," Executive Director Karen Ayala said at a news conference Wednesday. "We expect there may be more cases and more individuals to follow up with in the coming weeks."

Ayala would not reveal how many people have been potentially exposed and are currently being tested, saying only that "it's a very small number." Those individuals are cooperating with efforts to contain the virus, Ayala said.

"We are currently and will continue to be in direct communication with individuals within DuPage County to monitor their health and have them quickly and safely evaluated by a health care provider if needed," Ayala said. "Rather than serve as a point of concern, I would hope that this provides residents and our partners with a sense of reassurance that we are actually taking active measures to control the spread of this novel disease."

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While Ayala sought to tamp down fears over the spread of coronavirus, she did express concern over flu activity within the county. Six patients have died from flu-related illnesses and 32 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units since September.

"The same steps that will keep you safe and heathy from flu will keep you safe and reduce your risk for contracting this novel virus even further: proper hand hygiene, covering your cough and sneeze, staying home if you are sick and not feeling well," Ayala said.

Ayala would not say whether any of the Chicago woman's contacts have been hospitalized.

"Out of respect for the patient and these individuals' privacy, as well as the rapidly changing situation, we are not releasing the location or any identifying information at this time," Ayala said. "In the future, however, we would release locations where people may have been exposed if we needed help identifying individuals in those locations or if we were not able to quickly contact everyone who may have been exposed."

Officials are following contact monitoring protocols provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state department of public health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Unless they have symptoms, they don't have any reason to change their activities," Ayala said. "And so we check with them daily on how they're feeling and do a checklist of the symptoms that we would anticipate."

The Chicago woman is being treated at St. Alexius because her regular physician is on staff there and directed her to the emergency department after appropriate screening, an Amita Health spokeswoman said earlier this week.

When the case was confirmed late last Thursday, the Chicago resident was at the time only the second person in the U.S. to be officially diagnosed with the dangerous viral infection. As of Monday, there were five confirmed cases, with the others in California, Washington state and Arizona, according to the CDC.

The woman landed at O'Hare International Airport on Jan. 13 and started developing symptoms three to four days later, officials said. Experts believe the incubation period for the coronavirus can be as long as 14 days.

The symptoms are similar to many other upper respiratory illnesses: fever, shortness of breath and coughing.

"At this point, our overriding message is that the general population is at low risk, we are monitoring the situation and we are coordinating and cooperating with our partner agencies very effectively," Ayala said.

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