An international panel of experts called the death of a medical student at UCLA in December a “possible, but likely completely unrelated case” of the novel coronavirus, according to a report released Tuesday.
World Health Organization officials say the illness probably belongs to the same family as SARS or MERS, both of which were man-made viruses and so weren’t part of any kind of planned vaccine, antiviral or antiviral therapeutic regimen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the advanced nature of coronavirus infections indicate that they must be treated with the usual precautions. But even given those precautions, health authorities can’t be certain that any one person has been infected by coronavirus through just one of a series of steps.
The committee members considered a range of possibilities. “Death by potential coronavirus infection remains a possibility but cannot be ruled out,” the experts concluded.
The virus is carried by one of the simplest viruses known: a SARS-like virus called coronavirus AH or the E. coli bacteria. It was isolated from SARS patients in China in 2002, and is now widespread in the Middle East. More than 3,000 people have been diagnosed worldwide with SARS, which can infect the lungs, including organ transplants. It remains one of the most lethal viruses ever discovered.
Recent tests suggest that infected people most commonly have been traveling in the Middle East, the high-risk region. There is no evidence that the virus is spreading from person to person, and yet it continues to infect more than 600 people a year in an outbreak that began in 2015.
On Jan. 14, 17-year-old Carolyn Anselmo of Cathedral City fell ill and was admitted to a hospital with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. She died 11 days later, on Dec. 21.
Anselmo’s family has fought to obtain her medical records, saying that despite a medical examiner’s report noting no evidence of an infection, her death was a murder. She had lots of abrasions, scratches and other minor injuries.
In emails and phone conversations with The Times on Tuesday, a member of the family said: “What we’re trying to do now is determine the reason why she died. Was it because of her cancer? Was it because of the advanced illness? Was it because of the medical staff at the hospital? The whole thing is really intriguing.”
The family’s attorney, Rudy Ricci, confirmed the group had been in contact with the family but declined to comment further.
The family wants an outside review of Anselmo’s care and the medical care of all 21 people who stayed in her home during her illness, Ricci said.
The report by an expert panel of ethicists, microbiologists and virologists was released by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It was based on an inquiry into Anselmo’s death by the agency’s International Collaborating Committee on Coronaviruses.
One point of comparison for coronavirus is with the coronavirus A-Ch1 — the "MERS" family of infections. The WHO has confirmed that about 400 people have contracted A-Ch1, including 22 in the United States.
Coronaviruses most often infect nasal, throat or other hard-to-reach parts of the body. Health authorities have limited their use of physical barriers to prevent infection. MERS, for example, can’t be transmitted from person to person. But experts do offer the possibility that coronavirus could migrate to other parts of the body, according to WHO recommendations.
“The coronavirus infection model shows that it can lead to respiratory illness,” says one example on the report, describing a sequence of treatment and some of the physicians and labs that have treated coronavirus infections. “The key question here is how are interventions and advice being informed by overall patterns of coronavirus infections.”
The worldwide coronavirus outbreak has been attributed to a cluster of infections in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Forty-two cases have been reported in the Saudi Kingdom; another 15 were identified in Iran. So far there is no evidence of a spike in coronavirus-related cases in the U.S.