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B.C. woman returning from Iran diagnosed with coronavirus

Last Updated Feb 20, 2020 at 9:57 pm EDT

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. (NIAID-RML via AP)

A sixth case of the novel coronavirus has been diagnosed in British Columbia after a woman in her 30s returned to the province this week from travel in Iran.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday the woman’s presumptive case is relatively mild and a number of her close contacts have already been put in isolation.

She said health officials are working on a detailed investigation of the woman’s travel and when her symptoms started to help determine if they need to notify those who travelled with her on the same aircraft.

Henry said the woman lives in the Fraser Health region, which is located east of Vancouver.

“This one, clearly, is a bit unusual in that the travel to Iran is something new,” she told a news conference at the B.C. legislature. “Iran has recently started reporting cases and we’ll be working with our national and international colleagues to better understand where she may have been exposed to this virus prior to her return to Canada.”

Iran announced three more infections Thursday, a day after it reported its first two deaths.

It is a presumptive case of the virus until positive test results come back from samples sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Henry said the woman went to a local hospital concerned about influenza-like symptoms. She was examined and released, Henry added.

“My understanding, from initial discussions with the clinician who saw her as well as the patient herself, was they did think it was influenza,” Henry said.

She said the woman’s novel coronavirus diagnosis was surprising, primarily because of her travel only to Iran.

“That could be an indicator there’s more widespread transmission,” said Henry. “This is what we call an indicator or sentinel event. A sentinel event means it’s a marker that something many be going on broader than what we expect.”

She said B.C. has reported the case to the Public Health Agency of Canada and it will also be reported to the World Health Organization.

Henry said the diagnosis shows B.C. has a robust system for identifying people who have the virus.

“We still believe the risk in Canada and here in B.C. is low,” she said.

Henry said earlier this week that four of the five people already diagnosed with the virus were symptom free. The fifth person, a woman in her 30s who returned from Shanghai, China, is in isolation at her home in B.C.’s Interior.

Henry said over 500 people have been tested for the virus in B.C. and many of those tested positive for the flu.

In Ontario, the first person in Canada to test positive for the novel coronavirus has now been completely cleared of the virus.

Ontario health officials say the man in his 50s has now had two negative tests 24 hours apart, which is the standard for being cleared.

Associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe says the man is no longer infectious to others and has recovered.

The man returned to Toronto in January from the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, and had to be hospitalized.

His wife, who had travelled with him, also fell ill, but had less severe symptoms and is still in self-isolation at home.

Yaffe says the woman is doing well and is expected to be cleared soon.

A third person has since completely recovered, with tests showing she no longer has the virus in her system.

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