I’m sure that you have all heard about the coronavirus infection that is rapidly spreading in China. There is still quite a bit that we don’t know about the infection, but I thought it might be helpful to talk about the things that we do know about it.
What is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different animal species. Although it is not common, animal coronaviruses can sometimes infect people. Rarely, an animal coronavirus develops the ability to spread from one person to another. This has happened with coronaviruses in the past. You may remember the SARS virus that became a global outbreak in 2003. That was a coronavirus, which appears to be closely related to the current coronavirus outbreak.
The current coronavirus is called the 2019 Novel (meaning new) Coronavirus (abbreviated 2019-nCoV). It was first detected in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China. Chinese health officials have reported thousands of infections with this virus, and it has been confirmed that there is person-to-person spread. Additional cases have been identified in a growing number of international locations.
On 1/30/2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the 2019-nCoV a global health emergency. This designation will help the WHO to mobilize financial and political support to help contain the outbreak.
What are the symptoms of the 2019-nCoV?
Reported illnesses from confirmed cases have ranged from people being mildly sick to people being severely ill and dying. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
How does the 2019-nCoV spread?
The way this virus spreads is not definitively known at this time. The spread of the SARS virus is thought to have happened primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is similar to many other respiratory viruses, and is likely to be the way the current outbreak is spreading.
Some viruses are highly contagious, and others are less contagious. The spread of the SARS virus between people generally occurred between close contacts, and not casual contacts. We don’t yet know how easily the 2019-nCoV spreads from one person to another. Health officials are working hard to learn just how contagious this virus is.
What is the incubation period of this virus?
The incubation period is the time that it takes for symptoms to appear after a person has been exposed to a virus. The incubation period for 2019-nCoV is not definitively known at this time. The CDC believes that the incubation period is anywhere between 2 days and 14 days. This is based on current observations of the 2019-nCoV, as well as information that we know about the SARS virus.
What is the situation in the United States at this time?
There have been a total of 6 confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV infection in the United States as of 1/30/2020. Five of these have been “imported” cases, meaning that the patient came to the United States from China with the infection. There has been only one case of person-to-person spread detected in the United States thus far. The husband of a patient who contracted the infection in China has now been diagnosed with the infection. His wife had traveled to China in December to care for her father in Wuhan. She was not symptomatic when she returned home, but became ill and tested positive for the infection on 1/24/2020, within 11 days of her return home. His test results returned positive on 1/30/2020.
While the CDC considers this infectious outbreak a very serious public health threat, based on all current information available, the immediate health risk from the 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said on Thursday, “We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low.”
What should you do if you have recently traveled to China and get sick?
If you were in China and develop symptoms within 14 days of your return, or if you develop symptoms after being in contact with a person who has recently returned from China, you should:
- Seek medical care right away.
- Call ahead to the medical facility to let them know about your recent travel and symptoms.
- Avoid close contact with others.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (NOT your hands).
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time.
For more information about the 2019-nCoV, follow the link below to the CDC website. It is being updated regularly to keep up with all of the latest information. I have even had to edit this Health Tip with the latest information since I first wrote it on 1/29/20, because we are getting new information regularly. If important changes to this information become available, we will try to keep you updated.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor