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5 Confirmed Cases Of The Coronavirus In The U.S.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Close to 2,000 cases of the coronavirus have now been confirmed in China, and more than 50 people have died. Here in the United States, a fifth case has been confirmed. Here's Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control on a call for media yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY MESSONNIER: We need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not.

MARTIN: So let's learn more about the virus, how it spreads, what can be done to prevent that by asking Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Thanks so much for being with us this morning, Dr. Fauci.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So as I mentioned, as of now, there are five confirmed cases of the coronavirus here in the U.S. Do we know how these patients contracted it and what their general health was, if it made - if they were more vulnerable than others might be?

FAUCI: Well, the situation is such that this is a respiratory-borne illness. So almost certainly, they contracted this virus by interacting with someone who was infected, someone who's coughing. That's how, generally, the respiratory infections are spread from one to another. The demography or the scope of the people who are getting infected is that anyone can, really, get infected.

The people who are getting the most serious complications in China are those who are either elderly and-or have underlying conditions. But people of any age can, really, get infected - interestingly, mostly adults. If you look at the mean age of the individuals, it's really in adult to middle age as opposed to a lot of children. Really, it can spread to anyone, though, potentially.

MARTIN: Are Chinese health officials being forthcoming with their U.S. counterparts and with the WHO, the World Health Organization, about how the virus is spreading, from their perspective?

FAUCI: Well, you know, if you take a situation of comparing how they were with regard to SARS in 2002 - when it was very clear there was an egregious holding back of information, which really allowed the virus to take hold back then in 2002, 2003 - they're much better right now. But quite frankly, we don't really know exactly what's going on there, which is the reason why I said yesterday, in an interview, I would really like to have some of our people, our CDC people deal directly with them and look at the data that they're accumulating because we will have to make policy decisions ourselves on how we address this, based on real data, because all that we're hearing right now are reports from them.

I'm assuming they're being totally transparent. I hope they are. They certainly are more than they were back in 2002, 2003 with the SARS outbreak.

MARTIN: Well, why can't that happen? I mean, what's to prevent CDC officials from doing that?

FAUCI: Well, you know, in general - in fact, clearly, when a country wants to have interaction and help from our CDC - we're very good - they can't just have the CDC go there; they need to be invited, and they have not yet been officially invited to go there. I would like to see that or at least have some direct analysis of the data because as you know, right now the commissioner of - the minister of health in China, Dr. Ma, said that this virus can be transmitted from someone who is without symptoms. That has important implications.

I'm not sure that's the case, but if it is, it certainly has implications that you need to address. I'd like to see the real data...

MARTIN: Yeah.

FAUCI: ...That shows that that's the case, as opposed to taking someone's press release announcement for it.

MARTIN: Are you satisfied with what is happening here in the United States...

FAUCI: Yes.

MARTIN: ...In order to prevent the spread?

FAUCI: Yes. I mean, that's a very good question. We have - as you mentioned correctly, we now have five confirmed cases in the United States, and I would not be surprised at all if we start seeing more in the coming days to weeks. The way you address that is you identify the person, you isolate them, and you do contact tracing for the people with whom they come into contact. When you do that, that is the classic public health way how you contain an outbreak.

And in all five cases, the individuals were properly and appropriately identified, all were put in isolation, and now the CDC is doing the appropriate contact tracing. That's the right way to do it, and that's what we have to keep doing.

MARTIN: Just briefly, how far away are we for - from a vaccine for coronavirus? I understand researchers are working on that.

FAUCI: Yeah. Yeah, we're working on one at the NIH. We've already started. We're collaborating with other companies and other groups that are doing it. We will likely, almost certainly, be able to get a vaccine to do the early Phase 1 study for safety within the next five - excuse me - three months.

MARTIN: OK.

FAUCI: It will be three months we'll be into people. But people need to understand that just getting a Phase 1 study for safety doesn't mean you have a vaccine distribution.

MARTIN: Right.

FAUCI: It's going to take - yeah. It's going to take at least a year.

MARTIN: It's going to take a while. OK. A year. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH. Thank you for your time.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.