What it means.
The diagnosis of the first known case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-like) coronavirus in the United States: 34-year-old Samira Lam. Lam has active laboratory tests that prove confirmed the presence of the virus in the state of California. She was first diagnosed with a common cold on Oct. 16, after lab testing found a positive match with the newly identified novel coronavirus, also known as NCoV.
Lam has extensive experience in her line of work as a radiology technician, especially in areas of radiology with cardiac MRI systems. (Stem and stem-cell technologies have emerged in recent years as a disease-fighting platform in which Lam has made a name for herself.) She has performed more than 1,000 procedures over her 10-year career. Of those, she performed 40 coronary MRI tests and 10 cardiac MRIs with a vascular MRI. She has only performed one previous case of acute respiratory syndrome.
Lam has been placed in isolation at a facility where she has been subjected to a series of tests and for now, she is unable to provide any information about her condition.
Since it was first identified two years ago, NCoV has caused 15 deaths in Europe. It has been associated with acute respiratory symptoms in several cases in the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
What’s different this time.
Because Lam is the first known case in the United States, it raises additional concerns.
Typically, patients from SARS-like viruses show symptoms within three to seven days of exposure, and those who do show symptoms usually die from the illness. In Lam’s case, her symptoms did not manifest until Oct. 16. The incubation period for NCoV can be months. Layers of passive quarantine also play a role in allowing this virus to progress into a more severe illness.
What to watch for.
Because Lam is a U.S. citizen, the World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the management of the case. The world organization works with affected governments to set up special containment units for patients, in the event of any international spread. In California, Lam has been put in isolation at an isolation unit that has been thoroughly cleaned and tested multiple times. Over the next few days, her situation will be monitored closely by health officials.
What we know now.
While the WHO and state health officials do not yet know Lam’s specific symptoms, they do know the general nature of the virus. The NCoV virus in Lam is not typically fatal to humans. However, the WHO has issued a Special Preparedness and Response Unit recommendation that “should give the appropriate general medical experts in emergency rooms of local or regional health departments… the possibility to test or evaluate patients with fever and respiratory symptoms suspected to be associated with this new virus” before declaring a cause of illness. The new diagnosis will be treated under the traditional SARS procedures.