LOS ANGELES -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating what could be the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States involving a patient who neither recently traveled out of the country nor was in contact with someone who did.
"At this time, the patient's exposure is unknown. It's possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States," the CDC said in a statement. "Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It's also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected."
Few details about the case were revealed. But the CDC said the "case was detected through the U.S. public health system -- picked up by astute clinicians."
On Tuesday, the CDC offered its most serious warning to date that the United States should expect the coronavirus to become a more serious health issue and that it was time to prepare for it.
"Ultimately, we expect we will see coronavirus spread in this country," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "It's not so much a question of if, but a question of when."
According to the CDC's latest count Wednesday morning, 59 U.S. citizens have tested positive for coronavirus -- 42 of whom are repatriated citizens from a Diamond Princess cruise. That number has grown by two since Messonnier's last count on Tuesday, although the CDC was not immediately available to offer details on the additional cases.
More than 81,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported globally, and more than 2,700 people have died, with the majority in mainland China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
CDC officials have warned that while the virus is likely to spread in U.S. communities, the flu still poses a greater risk.
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