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COVID-19 found at Everest base camp

The first case of COVID-19 was detected at the Everest Base Camp this month, shortly after Nepal reopened to climbers earlier in April.

Outside reported on Tuesday that a climber tested positive last week, citing anonymous sources within Base Camp.

The patient was initially believed to be suffering from high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and was flown to a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. The patient tested positive for the coronavirus upon arriving at the hospital.

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The rest of the expedition team began quarantining after the positive COVID-19 test.

“When you’re sitting at Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet, your immune system gets compromised because of the lack of oxygen,” Outside Everest correspondent Alan Arnette said last year. “Even a small cut on your finger doesn’t heal until you get back down to an oxygen-rich environment. I think the risks are really high, and people are taking a gamble if they climb.”

Suraj Shrestha, a volunteer with the Himalayan Rescue Association which seeks to reduce deaths from acute mountain sickness, told Outside that the high elevation of Base Camp poses a threat as the symptoms of COVID-19 could easily be mistaken for altitude sickness.

“With HAPE and COVID-19, we have a diagnosis dilemma, because they share symptoms,” Shrestha said. The symptoms the two conditions share include cough, a loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

Doctors at Base Camp are unable to test for COVID-19.

Foreign travelers who went to Nepal after it reopened were required to have a negative coronavirus test before and after arrival. They were also required to undergo a quarantine period, though Outside notes that these rules appear to be largely self-enforced.

Outside notes that Nepal has had a relatively low COVID-19 infection rate since the beginning of the year, though cases have recently begun to creep back up.

According to the World Health Organization, Nepal has confirmed nearly 300,000 coronavirus cases and a little over 3,000 deaths from the coronavirus.