German Coronavirus Outbreak Began With Patient Who Had Symptoms

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(Bloomberg) -- A Chinese woman who touched off a cluster of coronavirus cases in Germany last month was experiencing symptoms during her visit, contrary to previous reports, according to health officials in Berlin.

Authorities from the Robert Koch Institute, a German government biomedical agency, and the Bavarian health ministry have interviewed the Chinese woman since she flew back to China on Jan. 22. The woman described having had symptoms including back pain while in Germany and said she had taken fever-subduing medication, a spokeswoman for the institute said.

The organization reported the findings late last week to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The information hasn’t been published in a medical journal, although Science Magazine reported on it Monday evening.

The information differs from a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, which stated that the woman appeared to have transmitted the virus while still in the incubation phase. That ratcheted up fears about how easily the coronavirus from Wuhan, China, could spread. There have been other reports of asymptomatic transmission in China, however.

Since the Chinese woman’s visit to the German headquarters of auto-parts supplier Webasto SE -- located a half hour south of Munich -- the company has experienced a rash of coronavirus cases. Eight of its German employees as well as two children of one of those workers have tested positive for the disease. Beyond that, two Webasto employees from China who visited the German campus last month -- including the woman recently interviewed by German health authorities -- have tested positive.

The Bavarian health ministry didn’t immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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