WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health says a staff member has tested positive for the coronavirus, the federal health agency's first known report of an employee infected with COVID-19.

NIH says in a statement released on Sunday that it's reported the case to state and local public health officials. It says the individual is quarantined at home and doing well. 

NIH, the nation's medical research agency, is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and is located just outside Washington, D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland.

The employee works for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, but is not involved in patient care. The person was not showing symptoms at work, which could mean a lower the risk of virus transmission. 

"While this is an unfortunate development, it is not surprising, and NIH expects that there will be more cases of infection among NIH staff," the statement says.

NIH says the worker made the right decision to stay home and call to report that they were developing symptoms. Staff were informed early Sunday morning about the employee who tested positive.

Those who may have been in contact with the employee and exposed to the virus have been alerted, will be screened for symptoms and could be asked to self-quarantine at home. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and could appear 2 to 14 days after being exposed.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

NIH says it "commends the infected individual for following the NIH guidance, which has allowed us to take swift action."

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
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