Coronavirus: Canada’s first case of community infection announced in British Columbia

Ian Young

Canada has suffered its first case of community infection of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the new coronavirus – involving a woman in British Columbia who had not recently travelled and had no known contact with another identified patient.

The woman was among eight new patients in the province announced by its health minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry on Thursday afternoon.

Also among the cases was the first known case in Canada involving a visitor from the US. That patient was a woman who had travelled from Washington state, which is emerging as a new hotspot for the disease.

There have been a total of 21 infections announced in British Columbia. Among those reported on Thursday, four had been in contact with a man in his 60s who had recently travelled from Iran.

The eight new cases are technically described as presumptive-positive, because formal confirmation requires a second test at a national lab. But the province’s previous presumptive cases have all been confirmed.

Henry said the first case of community infection involved a woman aged in her 50s who lived in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, encompassing greater Vancouver and nearby satellite cities. The infection meant there was “at least one other person out there who has this disease”.

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Henry said she was confident the route of transmission would be discovered and further community spread prevented.

“I have faith in our public health teams … This is part of our bread and butter, the disease detective work. We’ll find out how she was infected, and our goal is to stop that chain of transmission,” she said.

The patient had originally been diagnosed with influenza by her doctor, but a subsequent test on her samples turned up positive for Covid-19, Henry said. The infection was caught as a result of British Columbia’s system of surveillance of all flu patients.

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Community spread is typically regarded as a landmark event in the spread of an epidemic, involving unidentified sources of infection, as opposed to infections brought from other places, or infections of people via contact with other known patients.

Cases of community spread have recently emerged across the United States, in Washington state, California, New York and Florida.

In Washington, which neighbours British Columbia, there have been 70 infections and 11 deaths. Eight of the deaths were linked to a nursing home in Kirkland, with the original outside source of the infection there yet to be traced.

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The first infection in Canada imported from the US involves a patient aged in her 50s who lives in Seattle but has family in British Columbia and is a frequent visitor to the Fraser Health Region, outside Vancouver, Henry said.

Of the province’s 21 patients, four have recovered, 16 are under home isolation, and one – a woman in her 80s – is in a hospital intensive care unit, in critical condition.

There have been 46 Covid-19 patients diagnosed in Canada: 23 in Ontario and one each in Alberta and Quebec.

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