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Man in his 50s first possible case of coronavirus in Ontario

Last Updated Jan 25, 2020 at 11:27 pm EST

A Toronto hospital is treating a patient suspected to be the first case of coronavirus in Canada.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, says a man in his 50s who had travelled to Wuhan, China – were the virus outbreak originated – returned to Toronto on Jan. 22 was taken to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital on Jan. 23 and is now in a negative pressure room.

According to Toronto Public Health, the patient is listed in stable condition.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the case was considered “presumptive positive” until the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg finds the same positive results as the tests conducted in Toronto.

Still, officials said they were taking all precautions to keep people safe, interviewing all those who were in contact with the man between Wednesday, when he landed in Toronto, and Thursday, when he went to hospital.

“The risk to Ontarians is still low and things are managed and well-controlled,” Williams said. “As I hoped, the system is operating as it should.”

Williams said provincial authorities are also working with their federal counterparts to contact people who sat within a few rows of the man on the plane he took to Toronto, but he noted that even those people shouldn’t worry too much.

“You have to be more than just casually walking by someone,” he said.

Health officials say the man traveled from Pearson airport to a residence using private transportation. They add the man’s wife has not shown any symptoms of the disease at this point.

Williams added that the widely available information about the illness appears to have contributed to the early detection of this case.

“The individual, knowing his responsibility, when feeling unwell, even without having really severe symptoms, was concerned enough and informed prompt enough,” Williams said. “That just tells you that people have knowledge of it, they want to take proper precautions to protect their health and protect their family members and others.”

Yaffe said the positive test result came in on Saturday afternoon, two days after the patient called 911 to report feeling ill. She also said that emergency personnel were “aware of his travel history and used full precautions.”

However, the union which represents 1,300 Toronto paramedics says news of the man’s condition was only revealed to them when officials first released the man’s condition on Saturday.

Two hours later, the union clarified its statement to say that while the division was notified of the patients change in condition, the paramedics themselves were not told. The union also confirmed paramedics were fully protected during the emergency call.

Mayor John Tory issued a statement, expressing his full confidence in city health officials and how they have handled the situation.

The news of Canada’s first coronavirus patient comes as authorities around the world grapple with the new type of virus, which originated in China but has since spread to Europe and North America.

There are more than 1,975 cases so far, including three in France and two in the United States.

While 56 people have died of the virus in China – most of the deaths have been older patients – the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu echoed the sentiment in a written statement, saying officials are taking all necessary precautions.

“The Government of Canada has been working closely with provincial and territorial counterparts, and international partners, since China first reported 2019-nCoV cases to ensure that our country is prepared to limit the spread of 2019-nCoV in Canada,” she said.

The new virus comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a common cold. But in late 2002, a coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome erupted in southern China, causing a severe pneumonia that rapidly spread to other countries. SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, including 44 Canadians. Toronto was hard hit in that outbreak.

SARS and MERS came from animals, and this newest virus almost certainly did, too. The first people infected visited or worked at a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been placed under quarantine since the outbreak.

Bustling streets, malls and other public spaces have turned eerily quiet, masks are mandatory in public, and some hospitals have run low on medical supplies. Transportation has also been shut down in roughly a dozen Chinese cities, home to roughly 36 million people.

Canadian officials have said such mass quarantines won’t happen here, even if there is an outbreak.

It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is or even whether it is as dangerous as the ordinary flu, which results in 12,200 hospitalizations and about 3,500 deaths in Canada yearly.

The federal government has beefed up measures at major airports in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, asking travellers whether they had been to Wuhan in the past 14 days, with a positive response triggering further investigation.

Here are key things to know following the first presumptive positive case of the coronavirus in Toronto:

WHAT IS IT?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that most often cause mild-to-moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses including the common cold, but they can also lead to severe diseases. Some coronaviruses spread between animals, some pass between animals and people, and others go from people to people.

This new virus is different from the coronaviruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

WHAT ARE COMMON SYMPTOMS?

This new virus has non-specific symptoms including fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Typically, coronavirus infections manifest as the common cold. Symptoms can include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. Young babies may contract gastrointestinal disease.

Severe cases involve pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SUSPECT INFECTION?

Consult your health care provider as soon as possible if you are worried about symptoms or have travelled to a region where severe coronaviruses are known to occur.

If you have mild cold-like symptoms, health officials encourage you to stay home while sick and avoid close contact to help protect others. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and be sure to throw used tissues in the trash and wash your hands. Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

(Sources: Health Canada, Public Health Ontario, World Health Organization)
 
With files from The Canadian Press and Associated Press.