Health authorities say the man who contracted the virus is from the state of Bavaria. It is the first known instance outside of China of the disease transmitting between unrelated persons.
The colleague, a woman from Shanghai, “started to feel sick on the flight home on January 23,” Andreas Zapf, head of the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety, said at a press conference.
The 33-year-old man who contracted the virus lives near Starnberg, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Munich, and is in a “medically good state,” according to the health authority.
The ministry released a statement on Monday saying he was under surveillance in an isolation ward and that the risk of infection for the people of Bavaria is currently considered to be “low.”
“People who have been in contact (with the patient) have been informed in detail about possible symptoms, hygiene measures and transmission channels,” the statement added.
The Bavarian case is the first known example outside of China of the infection spreading between people who are not closely related.
Last week, the infected man, who works for the auto parts supplier Webasto, had attended a training with the visiting Chinese colleague before she returned to China and began showing symptoms of the illness. The woman had recently been visited in Shanghai by her parents, who come from the area around Wuhan, where the new virus originated.
Her German colleague in Bavaria developed bronchitis-like symptoms over the weekend, but recovered and felt well enough to go to work on Monday.
By that time, the Chinese colleague’s illness had been made known to the company, who then informed their employees to report any symptoms to a doctor. The man tested positive for Coronavirus on Monday evening.
Approximately 50 cases have been recorded outside of China. Nearly all of the patients had recently returned from China. In a handful of international cases, the virus was passed between family members.
Coronavirus vs. Influenza
In the Tuesday press conference, Bavarian health authorities said that people who had come into close contact with either of the infected persons have been informed and are being monitored for any signs that the disease has spread.
Bavarian Health Minister Melanie Huml said that a hotline would be established Tuesday for people to call with their concerns. She also said that plans were in the works to begin measuring body temperature levels at international airports in Bavaria.
Zapf said it was important to respond appropriately to the scale of the infection and not to “trigger panic.” Around 20,000 people die every year in Germany from the annual influenza epidemic, he said.
Symptoms of the new virus are similar to those seen during flu season, which has yet to hit its annual peak in Germany. Zapf cautioned that health workers will need to distinguish between cases of the two illnesses.
Germany ‘well prepared’
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter on Tuesday that Germany is in good shape to deal with the infection’s arrival.
“It was expected that the virus would come to Germany,” he wrote. “The case in Bavaria shows that we’re well prepared.”
Until Monday evening, only suspected cases had turned up in Germany. Some German states had responded by increasing security controls at airports.
Spahn said the government has plans ready for how airports and hospitals should act in case of a pandemic.
The virus can cause an acute respiratory infection, has so far killed at least 106 people and infected more than 4,500 others in China, while cases of the illness have also been reported across the globe.
Countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, US, France and Australia have all confirmed patients who have contracted the disease.