A rapidly evolving health story broke out in late December 2019, when a novel illness originating in Wuhan City, China made the news. Reports of the number of infected people (with now called 2019 Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV) swiftly rose, and isolated cases of this new virus have appeared in several countries, including the United States due to international travel. As of today, it has caused over 17,000 cases of confirmed cases and 362 deaths. Eleven cases and no deaths have been reported in the US. Fortunately, public health officials in many countries, including the US, have put measures in place to help prevent further spread of the virus.
With information changing so quickly and every news report about the virus seeming to raise the stakes, you may be wondering how likely it is that you or a loved one will become ill.
It’s convenient to turn to the internet for various links to information online. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there as well. The purpose of this writing is to provide you with some useful information on what we should know about this virus and what it may mean for you.
What is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a common cause of colds and other upper respiratory tract infections. These viruses infect certain animals and spread from one animal to another. However, they can also spread to humans, particularly if the virus mutates and becomes wide spread. Chinese authorities reported some cases of viral Pneumonia to the World Health Organization (WHO) in December 2019. Many of the ill people had come in contact with a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, a large city in eastern China. Since then, it has become clear that the virus can spread from person to person.
What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
Coronavirus can cause flu- like symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath. There are some early reports of non-respiratory symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Many people recover within a few days. However, some people, especially the very young, elderly, or people with weak immune system may develop a more serious infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
How is it treated?
Scientists are working hard to understand the virus, and Chinese health authorities have posted its full genome in international database. Currently, there are no approved antivirals or vaccines for this particular Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Treatment is only limited to symptom relief and prevention of secondary infection at this time.
Should you worry about catching this virus?
Unless you have been in close contact with an infected person, meaning a traveler from Wuhan City, China who actually has the Coronavirus, you are likely to be safe.
How to prevent this infection?
While we don’t understand the complete particulars of how this virus spreads, Coronavirus can spread through respiratory droplets caused by cough and sneeze from an infected person. Basic infectious disease principles are key to curbing the spread of this virus. Wash your hands regularly, and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your inner elbow. Stay home from school or work if you have a fever. Avoid close contact with people who have signs of a respiratory infection, such as runny nose, coughing, sneezing or shortness of breath.
In the US, the average person is at extremely low risk of catching this virus at this time. In fact, we are much more likely to get the Flu than any other virus this winter. Approximately one in 10 people suffer from Influenza each flu season. According to the CDC, there have already been around 15 million cases of flu in the US this year, leading to numerous hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. And this flu season has not been particularly severe yet, unlike the past few years. Therefore, it’s still not too late to get a flu shot, an easy and highly recommended step (by CDC) toward avoiding the flu. Even if you do get the flu despite having gotten the vaccine, studies show that severe illness, hospitalization, ICU admission, and death are less likely to occur.
The Bottom Line:
Amid the current spread and the complexity of international travel, the number of cases and deaths attributed to Coronavirus will likely continue to climb. However, there is no need to panic. As more information becomes available, public health organizations like CDC and WHO will be sharing key information and strategies to deal with this threat.
While gathering information online may be the easiest initial option, contact your health care provider if you have symptoms of infection such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. Please be skeptical of any fake news, conspiracy theories and unfounded claims on the social media about Coronavirus. Addressing the concerns surrounding 2019-nCoV requires accessible, reliable and updated information from the experts whose mission is to protect public health.
Dr. Tariq M. Vora
Regional Medical Director
Medco ER, Plano & Frisco, Texas