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March 09, 2020

New Jersey coronavirus patient, 32, describes experience with illness

Illness Coronavirus

James Cai, 32, a New Jersey physician assistant, was diagnosed with coronavirus last week. He urged the public to take the virus seriously and shared the symptoms he is experiencing while hospitalized at Hackensack University Medical Center.

A New Jersey man who tested positive for coronavirus last week has shared a foreboding description of his experience with the illness, which continues its spread in the United States.

James Cai, a 32-year-old physician assistant, was the first New Jersey resident diagnosed with coronavirus. The Fort Lee man, who splits his time in Manhattan, told CBS New York he believes he was exposed to the virus while attending a medical conference in Times Square at the beginning of the month.

MORE: First coronavirus case in Philly announced by health officials

"The virus is everything," Cai said. "Diarrhea, watery eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain, you name it. High fever. Every day is getting worse. It happened so quick."

Health officials and media outlets around the world have struggled to find a middle ground in conveying both the seriousness of COVID-19 and the comparative risk of the coronavirus outbreak. The rapid spread of the illness, combined with the estimated year or more it may take to develop a vaccine, have made it an unavoidable threat for communities, governments and institutions.

While vigilance has become necessary on a global scale, most have have tried to avoid panic and hyperbole.

"People have to take coronavirus seriously," said Cai, who remains hospitalized at Hackensack University Medical Center. "It's very serious."

Common coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Most illnesses are considered mild, but a serious illness occurs in about 16% of cases, according to initial data from China, where the outbreak originated. The incubation period is believed to be 2-14 days. 

The virus is considered more dangerous in older patients and those with existing chronic health conditions including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, according to the CDC

Health experts stress that the best way to prevent illness is to practice good hand hygiene, avoid close contact with sick individuals and frequently disinfect common surfaces and objects, like cell phones.

More than 500 U.S. residents had been diagnosed with coronavirus as of Monday morning. Twenty-two people have died from the illness in the U.S.

Several coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in the Philadelphia area during the past few days, including one in Delaware County, five in Montgomery County and one in Camden County.

Cai said he is hopeful about improvement because his medical team remains in contact with doctors in China to help coordinate his treatment. 

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