BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Coronavirus has killed at least 17 people in China, and one person in the United States who had traveled from Wuhan has been diagnosed with the disease. But the risk to Massachusetts residents is low, the state’s Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

“The risk to Massachusetts residents from this novel coronavirus is currently low, however, this is the season for respiratory viruses including the flu and many of the same recommended precautions apply to coronaviruses,” a spokeswoman for the department told WBZ-TV.

The department sent a letter to health care providers advising them on how to handle possible coronavirus cases.

“Patients who report recent travel to Wuhan who present to any facility or provider with a fever, lower respiratory tract symptoms (such as shortness of breath and cough), and/or contact with a known novel coronavirus patient should be asked to wear a surgical mask and be evaluated in a private room with the door closed, ideally an airborne infection isolation room if available,” the letter states. “Healthcare personnel entering the room should use standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and use eye protection.”

Boston’s Logan Airport is not currently screening passengers for coronavirus because there are no direct flights coming in from the Wuhan area. However, on Wednesday night, several passengers who arrived in Boston from Hong Kong were screened as a precaution.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Massport Fire Rescue, in coordination with local and federal partners, did additional screening for a number of passengers on the arriving Cathay Pacific flight,” Massport said. “None had any symptoms and continued on their trip.”

New York’s JFK Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco Airport are screening travelers for the virus, and Chicago and Atlanta’s airport will begin screening soon.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Todd Ellerin of South Shore Health said it is “extremely unlikely” the average person in Massachusetts encounters the virus. “Much more likely that in the winter we’re going to get influenza,” Dr. Ellerin said.

Wuhan has suspended outbound flights and trains to fight the spread of coronavirus. Last month, doctors there began seeing the new virus in people who got sick after spending time at a wholesale seafood market.

Officials have said the virus probably spread from animals to people, but this week Chinese officials said they’ve concluded it also can spread from person to person.

Health authorities this month identified the germ behind the outbreak as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold; others found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, belongs to the coronavirus family, but Chinese state media say the illness in Wuhan is different from coronaviruses that have been identified in the past.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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