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Health officials find two coronavirus cases in California

The coronavirus that has health officials around the world on guard has been confirmed in two California residents, the California Department of Public Health reported.

Both patients are from Southern California, with one residing in Los Angeles and the other in Orange County.

“The California Department of Public Health has been preparing for this situation by working closely with local health departments and health care providers,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, CDPH Director and State Health Officer. “We are supporting ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency to respond to these cases, and will continue working with our partners to monitor for any additional cases that may occur in California, to ensure that persons can be safely and effectively evaluated for this novel virus, and to protect the health of the people of California.” 

The U.S. has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, Southern California and Arizona. Canada said it discovered its first case, a man in his 50s who was in Wuhan before flying to Toronto. 

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold, but others cause more serious illnesses such as SARS. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

First detected last month, the virus is believed to have originated in a type of wild animal sold at a Wuhan market to be consumed as food.

The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in China and killed nearly 800 as it spread around the world in 2002 and 2003. So far, China has confirmed more than 4,500 coronavirus cases and more than 100 deaths.

The Chinese government has locked down Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province, isolating more than 50 million people. The United States and other countries prepared Tuesday to airlift their citizens out of Wuhan. The outbreak has brought everyday business to a standstill and closed down such popular tourist attractions as Beijing's former imperial palace, Shanghai Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and the city's Ocean Park.

The CDPH said the current health risk to the general public from the novel coronavirus is low.

It is very important for persons who have recently traveled and who become ill to notify their health care provider of their travel history. Persons who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or who have had contact with a person with possible novel coronavirus infection should contact their local health department or health care provider. 

CDPH has been prepared and is continuing with the following actions:

·       Providing information about the outbreak and how to report suspect cases to local health departments and health care providers in California.

·       Coordinating with CDC personnel who are doing screening of travelers from Wuhan, China at SFO and LAX airports.

·       Assuring that health care providers know how to safely manage persons with possible novel coronavirus infection.

·       Supporting hospitals and local public health laboratories for collection and shipment of specimens for testing at CDC for novel coronavirus.

·       Activating CDPH’s Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response efforts across the state.

—      The Associated Press contributed to this story.