Confirmed coronavirus cases boomed this week as China altered its method for counting amid concerns over its handling of the crisis.
Thursday, U.S. health officials confirmed a 15th U.S. case.
The death toll from the coronavirus that surfaced in China late last year rose to 1,383 on Thursday. All but three of the deaths have been in mainland China.
China previously counted cases only when a person tested positive for the virus. Chest imaging and other medical diagnoses are now included.
"While this may be a sensitive technique to look for an infection with the new coronavirus, it may also identify patients with other, similar viral illnesses, including the flu, artificially inflating the actual number of cases," said Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
Glatter said the coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, is proving difficult to contain.
"The lack of reliable information combined with a highly transmissible virus is problematic, to say the very least," Glatter said. "Relying on health care providers to report cases – using clinical suspicion along with CT scans with certain patterns of lung inflammation – as 'positive' is not an ideal approach."
Melissa Nolan, a physician and professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, told USA TODAY that China's effort to include people with clinical characteristics of disease without a confirmed diagnosis can help expedite public health measures by ensuring all potentially infectious people are isolated.
Nolan agreed with Glatter that "there is a likely chance that a portion of those with clinical disease are caused by other etiologies, such as influenza, tuberculosis."
U.S. officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered to send experts to China to help with that government's response, but those offers have been rebuffed, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
"We’re disappointed that we haven’t been invited in," Kudlow said at the White House. "We're a little bit disappointed about the lack of transparency."
Mike Ryan, who leads the World Health Organization's emergency programs, offered measured support for China's efforts. He noted that public health officials around the world have been testing patients for the virus. The numbers outside China remain relatively small, he said.
He said China's new reporting protocols could be helpful.
"This allows people to get clinical care more quickly and allows public health responses to be initiated," Ryan said at a news conference Thursday. “I sometimes find it difficult to understand why the assumption to the awful is the one that’s accepted."
Experts expressed hope that Friday could bring greater understanding of whether COVID-19 was growing or waning. Provided China continues to tally with the new method, it would give a chance for an apples-to-apples, day-to-day comparison.
CDC confirms 15th US case
A person under federal quarantine in Texas was confirmed as the nation's 15th coronavirus case, the CDC announced. The patient arrived in the USA on Feb. 7 on a State Department-chartered flight from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China. The passengers remain quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. "The individual is currently isolated and receiving medical care" at a nearby hospital, the CDC said in a statement.
Trump remark on coronavirus, explained
Kudlow, asked about Trump's remarks that warmer springtime temperatures would help contain the virus, said President Xi Jinping made that assertion to Trump during a phone call. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said she hoped the virus would begin to disappear when the weather warms up, but "it’s premature to assume that."
Coronavirus death rate far below SARS – so far
WHO estimated the mortality rate for the virus at about 2%. That compares with a 10% death rate for SARS, which killed 774 people during an outbreak in China in 2002-03.
"We are not seeing a significant shift in the pattern of mortality or severity," Ryan said Thursday. The increase in cases "does not represent a significant change in the trajectory" of the outbreak. Ryan said the coronavirus remains most problematic for older people and for men.
Japan confirms first death
Japan confirmed its first death from the coronavirus Thursday. One death previously was reported in the Philippines, another in Hong Kong.
Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the victim, a woman in her 80s, lived in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo. Japan has confirmed almost 250 cases of the virus, including a cruise ship where 44 more cases were confirmed Thursday. That raises the total on the Princess Cruises' Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Yokohama for a week, to 218.
The government decided to allow some elderly passengers suffering from chronic illnesses to leave the ship if they test negative for the virus.
Another American evacuee has virus
Another case of coronavirus was confirmed in the USA among evacuees from China, the CDC announced. The person was aboard a flight from Wuhan that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week, the CDC said. The patient was in isolation at a San Diego hospital, UC San Diego Health confirmed.
Contributing: John Fritze and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: US cases hit 15; China reporting methods under scrutiny