The coronavirus that has infected nearly 300 people in Asia and killed at least six has arrived in the United States. Health officials have confirmed that a 30-year old man in Seattle, Washington, who recently traveled home from China, has contracted the virus. (1)
The Coronavirus Outbreak
This coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV and similar to the SARS virus, originated in the city of Wuhan in China. Since the initial outbreak in December, it has spread to Beijing, Shanghai, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan. (1, 2) The scientist who first decoded the virus, Leo Poon, believes that it started first in animals and then infected humans, linked to a seafood market with live animals. (1, 3)
What is the Coronavirus
Called “corona” for the crown-like spikes on its surface. (1, 5) It refers to a larger group of viruses that are commonly found in animals. Sometimes these viruses can become “zootonic” meaning that they can be transferred from animals into human hosts. (2, 5)
Symptoms of a Coronavirus
The main symptoms of these types of viruses include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
While most healthy individuals will only experience mild symptoms, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system may develop pneumonia or bronchitis. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). For some, this can cause serious illness and even death.
You should see your doctor immediately if you are pregnant and show symptoms of the disease. (2)
2019-nCoV in America
An otherwise healthy 30-year old man who had traveled to Wuhan reported symptoms of the virus to his doctor when he began to feel ill a few days after returning home. He arrived back in the U.S. on January 15th, and official screenings of the disease began two days later. He is in stable condition and all passengers traveling back from China are now being screened upon entry to the United States. (1)
2019-nCoV: A potential super spreader
Coronaviruses are spread via contact with others who are already infected. Even if someone is not showing symptoms yet, they can still infect those around them.
Though not yet confirmed, officials fear that the 2019-nCoV might be another dreaded “super spreader”. A virus becomes a super spreader when a patient produces extremely high levels of the virus in their lungs, giving them the capability to spread the illness to dozens of people at one time. What causes this is still unknown. (1, 5)
“For those of us who dealt with SARS and MERS, it’s like déjà vu all over again,” Michael Osterholm, infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota told NBC News. “When you see super-spreaders, you know you’ve got a problem.” (1)
What America is doing
As of January 17th, all flights into the United States from Wuhan are being diverted to specific airports set up to screen all travelers before entering the country for the virus. These airports are:
- JFK in New York
- San Francisco International Airport
- LAX in Los Angeles
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- O’Hare in Chicago
The World Health Organization will be meeting this Wednesday, January 22nd, to determine whether or not to declare the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”. (1)
How to protect yourself
There are currently no vaccines for coronavirus, though trials for some are underway.
In healthy individuals, coronaviruses will go away on their own. If you have one, your doctor may prescribe medications for pain and fever and suggest plenty of fluids, rest, and sleep. (2, 5)
If you have symptoms, notify your doctor and stay home from work to avoid spreading it to others and disinfect items and surfaces you touch. Monitor your family members to ensure they are not also developing symptoms.
Adopt these habits to avoid getting sick yourself:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- Stay away from others who are sick
- Wash your hands often and properly: for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
- Avoid unprotected contact with live animals
- Thoroughly cook all meat and eggs
The Bottom Line
While at this point in time there is no reason to panic, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and do what you can to avoid getting sick. Pregnant women, the elderly, and the immuno-compromised should take particular care. Monitor your children, spouse, and even your pets for symptoms of illness and see your doctor should any occur. After your initial visit, if symptoms persist or get worse, see your doctor right away for additional help.
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