The fight to contain the coronavirus entered an alarming new phase on Thursday as caseloads soared in Europe and the Middle East, and health officials in the United States and Germany dealt with patients with no known connection to others with the infection.
The German and American cases raised the possibility that the virus could have begun to spread locally, or that infected people had spread it to others sequentially, making it virtually impossible to trace and isolate the origins.
Public health officials said the infected individual was a resident of Solano County, in Northern California, but they have not disclosed any other information to protect the patient’s privacy. Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week. But the CDC has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The CDC could not be reached for comment.
The new case, in which the source of infection is unknown, is cause for concern, experts said.“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some lowgrade transmission,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
All of the 59 other cases in the US had travelled from abroad or had been in close contact with those who traveled. Health officials have been on high alert for so-called community spread.
Meanwhile, health officials in Germany reacted aggressively on Thursday after a man with no known connection to anyone infected with the coronavirus tested positive for the illness. In addition to closing schools in the community where he lived, they reached out to hundreds of people who took part in a carnival celebration over the weekend where the man was also present, urging them to stay home.
Karl-Josef Laumann, the health minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the man lives, said that the authorities were still trying to figure out how the man had contracted the coronavirus virus. He remains critically ill.
In the Middle East, concerns built about the growing severity of the outbreak in Iran, the source of infections in many other countries. The government said 245 people had been infected and 26 had died, but experts say there are probably many more cases. Those infected include Masoumeh Ebtekar — one of Iran’s seven vice presidents who oversees women and family affairs, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi and two MPs. Ebtekar’s case was said to be mild.
In Europe, Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Romania all reported their first cases, while several other countries registered new infections.
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