By Lindy Washburn and Katie Sobko
A patient at Hackensack University Medical Center was being evaluated Thursday night for possible infection with the coronavirus that originated in central China and has caused worldwide concern of a possible epidemic.
The patient, a 25-year-old woman, was transported to the hospital on Thursday evening by the Edgewater Emergency Medical Services, according to EMS sources.
“The hospital, the Department of Health and local health officials are working together to gather additional information,” said Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department. “No definitive diagnosis has been made regarding the patient.
“As a precautionary measure, the hospital is following all appropriate infection control protocols,” she said. That would include isolating the patient.
Hackensack Meridian Health officials confirmed that a patient was being evaluated, in a statement from Nancy Radwin, a spokeswoman.
The new type of virus has sickened more than 500 people in China, most in the central city of Wuhan. It causes respiratory illness, including pneumonia, and has spread to other cities in China as well as to Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan. Seventeen deaths have been reported in China, most among people with underlying medical conditions.
On Wednesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case in the United States, in a resident of Snohomish County, Washington who had returned from a trip to Wuhan.
A student at Texas A & M University who had returned from a visit to Wuhan and complained of respiratory illness was reportedly being evaluated for coronavirus on Thursday. The student had very mild symptoms and was being quarantined at home.
New or novel viruses are of concern because humans lack immunity to them and there are no vaccines or specific treatments. The patients have been treated with supportive care.
The New Jersey patient being evaluated was transferred from an address on River Road in Edgewater that is home to the Riverside Medical Group offices.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health distributed guidance to health professionals about the criteria to use in evaluating patients. Because many respiratory viruses are circulating during this season, it is difficult to immediately identify patients with this virus, known as “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV.”
The disease originated in a fish and animal market in Wuhan, and the extent of human-to-human transmission is still unknown.
“Person-to-person transmission is still being evaluated but appears to be occurring within case households and in the healthcare setting,” the New Jersey health department said.
The Chinese government has shared the genetic profile of the virus with world health officials, and the CDC has developed a rapid test for it. Samples from respiratory swabs of patients who met the criteria would be sent to the CDC in Atlanta to confirm whether or not they had the new virus.
In 2014, Hackensack was one of three hospitals in New Jersey to be chosen to prepare to treat any patients identified with Ebola, a highly contagious and deadly virus then spreading in west Africa. A team of emergency room and infectious disease professionals prepared, but ultimately did not treat any Ebola patients.