Public health authorities say it is unlikely, but possible, that North Carolina could have its first case of the newly discovered coronavirus.

The N.C. Department of Health and human Services is investigating the matter. The agency says the person involved traveled to China recently and passed through Wuhan City, where the outbreak originated. The person did not visit the seafood and animal market linked to many early cases of the coronavirus.

Arriving at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Jan. 23, the person displayed mild respiratory symptoms but is in good condition and being cared for in isolation at Duke University Hospital.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said the risk of infection with the virus is low for anyone who hasn’t been to Wuhan in the past two weeks.

He also said health officials are testing the patient in Raleigh out of an abundance of caution and that the chances are also low this person has the virus.

The patient did not have close contact with anyone after leaving the airport in Raleigh and wore a mask the entire time he or she was at the airport. The person was also taken directly from RDU to the hospital, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release.

Hundreds of cases of the illness have been confirmed in China since an outbreak began last month in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold. Others have evolved into more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS, although so far the new virus does not appear to be nearly as deadly or contagious.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, said Friday that people visiting any airport in the United States should not be concerned about contracting the coronavirus.

The virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, Ohl said.

“You have to be in close contact with a case (an infected person) to catch it,” Ohl said. “Most of the travel to the affected areas has been totally shut down.

“In North Carolina, our risks for this (virus) is extremely low,” Ohl said. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about it. If I was traveling to China, I would worry about it.”

People, especially college students, who traveled to China during the holidays and returned to the U.S. before Jan. 10 should be alert about the symptoms of the virus, Ohl said.

Universities throughout the United States, including Wake Forest University, have reached out to their international students and informed them of the signs and symptoms of the coronavirus, Ohl said. Wake Forest has distributed this information to any student who has traveled from Wuhan area of China, he said.

There are no reported cases of coronavirus at Wake Forest, Ohl said.

“There are a few people there who have a cold or the flu,” Ohl said. “(WFU officials) have alerted anyone who might have potentially been in China during (December) to let us know if they get sick.”

The 14-day incubation period of the virus for most people who traveled to Wuhan City during the holidays and returned to the U.S. will end this weekend, Ohl said.

“If you haven’t traveled and you have symptoms of a cold or the flu, then it’s going to be the cold or the flu,” Ohl said.

jhinton@wsjournal.com

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@jhintonWSJ

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