France confirms 2 cases of virus from China, 1st in Europe

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PARIS (AP) — France on Friday announced the first cases outside Asia and the United States of the deadly new virus from China, and the country’s health minister said Europe should brace for other new cases from the spreading epidemic that she said must be fought like a wildfire.

Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the two confirmed cases, Europe’s first, both involved people who had traveled to China, where hundreds of people have fallen ill and more than two dozen have died. The sickened patients in France were quickly hospitalized, in isolation, one in Paris, the other in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

In part because of Europe’s open borders, the minister said she expects more cases.

“We see how difficult it is in today’s world to close the frontiers. In reality, it’s not possible,” she said.

“We have two cases,” she added. “We will probably have other cases.”

Buzyn said speed in diagnosing new cases will be essential in slowing the spread of the virus. She said the likely reason that France has the first European cases is that it quickly developed a test allowing medics to rapidly diagnose the sickened.

“You have to treat an epidemic as you would a fire, that’s to say find the source very quickly,” she said. “We identified the first positive cases very quickly.”

One of people sickened, a 48-year-old man, passed through Wuhan, the epicenter in China for the virus, before traveling to France on Wednesday, the minister said. He has been hospitalized in Bordeaux since Thursday. She said he is a French national who traveled to China for work and who lives in the Bordeaux area.

The other person is hospitalized in a large city hospital in Paris. The minister said that person also traveled to China but that she had little other information about that case because it was only confirmed just minutes before she spoke at a hastily called evening news conference.

The Bordeaux patient was in contact with about 10 people before he was taken into care, the minister said. French authorities are seeking to contact them.

The minister urged people who suspect they’ve sickened to call emergency services and to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. She said those who came into contact with the two sickened patients would be told likewise.

“It’s important to control the fire as quickly as possible. Hence the need to piece together patient histories and to find people who were in contact with the patient,” she said.

“We will do everything possible to confine this epidemic,” she pledged.

The French minister promised “total transparency” as the country battles the outbreak and said her ministry would give daily news updates “so there is no false information on social networks.”

She said informing the public is “the most effective barrier” against the spread of the virus, more so than taking people’s temperatures as they arrive at airports and other entry points to test if they have a fever. Such tests are easily fooled and provide a false sense of security, she said.

“People only need to take aspirin 15 minutes before landing to no longer have a fever,” she said.

The number of confirmed cases around the world has climbed sharplyto more than 850, the bulk of them in China. There have been at least 25 deaths, all of them in China.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or involved people who visited the city or had personal connections to those infected.

Fewer than two dozen cases in all have been confirmed outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, Macao, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The U.S. reported its second case, involving a Chicago woman in her 60s who was hospitalized after returning from China. She was reported to be doing well.

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