A person in Gallatin County is being evaluated at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital after becoming ill following travel to mainland China and will be tested for the novel coronavirus.
It's the first reported person under investigation for the virus in Montana, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The Gallatin City-County Health department emphasized that the person is being tested and monitored, but has not been diagnosed with the virus. Results from testing, done by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are expected sometime this week.
Novel coronavirus is the cause of a respiratory illness outbreak that was first detected in Wuhan, China.
In the United States a total of 12 people have tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC, out of 398 cases under investigation. Cases have been confirmed in Washington, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts.
About 42,500 cases of the virus had been confirmed globally by Monday, and more than 1,000 people have died, with the majority in mainland China.
Jim Murphy, the state health department's Communicable Disease Control and Prevention bureau chief, said Monday the state has been notified by federal health officials of about 15 people with a recent travel history in China and is working with those people to monitor their health.
Matt Kelley, the health officer with the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said Monday the risk to people in the county and state is very low, but that he wanted to make information public to avoid the spread of rumors or confusion.
“We wanted to share with people who were expressing concern the information we have and we wanted to do that in a consistent way and in a widespread way,” Kelley said.
Kelley said five people in Gallatin County who have recently traveled to China are working with the state and local health departments to be monitored.
The person who is being tested went to the Bozeman hospital after becoming ill. The hospital is taking special precautions to protect employees and others, Kelley said.
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"This is the first person that we’ve been monitoring that has shown the symptoms," Kelley said.
The risk to anyone in the county remains very low.
"The exposure of this person is really small and we don't even know what is making this person ill," Kelley said. "The things we would tell people in Gallatin County today are really the same things we would have told them last week — take care of yourselves and take the same precautions that you take for influenza."
Murphy said that when people travel from China to the United States, those who are being allowed back in the country are screened by federal health workers for symptoms. Those who are not sick and travel back to their home states are flagged for the state health department.
The state then works with local health departments to monitor those people for about two weeks, the longest known incubation period for the virus.
Murphy pointed out about 97% of those who have been tested for the virus in the United States have not had it.
"We're optimistic that our person is going to also test negative and we should know that mid-week," Murphy said.
The CDC has the only lab that can do testing, but Murphy said Montana's state labs should be able to test for the virus by the end of the month.
He said the low diagnosis rate shows the screening systems set up at major airports are working.
"This person, for instance, was somebody that was on our monitoring list and as a result we were able to reach out and make contact and when something changed in the person's health status, a medical evaluation was going to occur," Murphy said, adding that those on the monitoring list generally have restrictions placed on their movement to limit the possible spread of a potential illness.
Montana has had four deaths from influenza this year, with 4,033 cases reported in the state and 186 hospitalizations. All counties have reported at least one case.
There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, but the CDC recommends people generally avoid spreading respiratory viruses and the flu by avoiding contact with people who are sick; washing your hands; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; staying home when you are sick; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.