Spain has confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus, technically known as 2019-nCoV, on its territory.
On Friday night the National Microbiology Center (CNM) reported a positive test on a sample taken from an individual in the Canary Islands.
The Health Ministry said that the sample was one of five taken from people on the island of La Gomera. The patient, a German national, is being treated at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Hospital in the town of San Sebastián, where he has been placed in isolation.
Health protocols were activated after it emerged that two tourists in La Gomera had previously been in contact with an infected patient in Germany
The disease, known more commonly as the Wuhan coronavirus, has already killed 259 people and infected more than 11,000 worldwide. On Friday, a group of 21 Spaniards flew out of the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and arrived in Madrid on an airplane chartered by the United Kingdom. They have been quarantined at a military hospital in the Spanish capital.
Health protocols were activated in Spain after it emerged that two tourists in La Gomera had previously been in contact with an infected patient in Germany. The tourists were located, and three other people who were staying with them on the island were also tested for the virus, said the regional government of the Canaries.
The other tests done by the CNM since the beginning of the outbreak have come back negative. Ministry sources said that the risk of the epidemic extending across Spain is very low.
The ministry said this scenario had been anticipated – an infected individual traveling to Spain and developing symptoms during their stay. This has already been the case in 19 other countries.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared an international emergency because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus: in little more than a month, the number of confirmed cases in mainland China has overtaken the SARS outbreak of 2003.
The alert has not changed the protocols that were already being followed in Spain, where regional governments are in charge of healthcare. Each region has decided whether to designate specific hospitals to treat potential patients, and everyone is ready for such an eventuality, said Fernando Simón, director of the Health Emergency Coordination Center.
No information has been provided about the kind of measures that have been taken with the patient in La Gomera, beyond the fact that he is in an isolated room where access is restricted. There is no cure for the Wuhan coronavirus, but health officials said the patient is doing well and can expect to be discharged soon after the fever has passed.
The vast majority of cases are not life-threatening. Problems only arise when the patient’s respiratory functions are compromised, explained José Ramón Arribas, an infectious disease specialist at La Paz Hospital in Madrid.
“In those cases we need to oxygenate the patients and connect them to a machine that will help them breathe,” he said. This is one of the problems facing China, where a large number of patients requiring mechanical ventilation could overwhelm the system. So far, most of the fatalities have been older individuals with pre-existing health conditions.
With additional reporting by Pedro Murillo.
English version by Susana Urra.