Concerning health news broke in late December as coronavirus, discovered in Wuhan, China reached the public’s ears. The number of those affected rose swiftly, reaching several countries because of international travel. As of today, January 28th, more than 4,600 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in China with 106 deaths reported. 1
Why is China so greatly affected?
The virus is a novel coronavirus – a member of the coronavirus family previously unknown. Coronaviruses originate in animals. Many of those infected in China frequented the wholesale seafood market in Wuhan. This market sells both live and freshly slaughtered animals. New viruses that raise concern among health experts often start with an animal host. Examples of such illnesses include Ebola and flu.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses cause common colds and other upper respiratory infections. These viruses are called zoonoses. Certain animals are affected, and they spread the virus to other animals. Coronaviruses have the potential to affect humans. This occurs more commonly when a mutation in the virus occurs.
The particulars of how this form of coronavirus spreads are not fully known. However, coronaviruses usually spread through droplets of large particles that can only be suspended in the air for three to six feet before dissipation. Varicella (chickenpox) or measles spread through smaller droplets and over much greater distances. Some coronaviruses have also previously been discovered in the stool of certain patients.
Given this knowledge, coronavirus is likely spread through sneezing and coughing. At this time, we do not know whether another route of transmission such as fecal-oral contact could spread the virus.
What are the symptoms of this new coronavirus from China?
From those affected in China, we can confirm that the virus can cause pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Some early cases reported non-respiratory symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
Most affected recover in a few days. Those at risk for experiencing pneumonia and other complications include the very young, elderly and those with compromised immunity. Many of the fatal cases of the virus occurred in patients who were already in poor health.
How do I prevent coronavirus?
All the typical steps to preventing illness apply to preventing this virus:
Wash your hands regularly.
Cover coughs and sneezes with your inner elbow.
Avoid touching your nose, mouth or hands.
Stay clear of those with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.
Stay home if you have a fever.
At what point should I go to the doctor if I have coronavirus symptoms?
Treat any normal, minor respiratory symptoms at home unless you have recently traveled to China or come in contact with someone who has. It is not necessary to visit a doctor unless you have a persistent cough or additional symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pains, or feel very unwell.
How is coronavirus treated?
Chinese health authorities have added the virus’s full genome in international databases so scientists can study it further. There are no approved antivirals for this type of coronavirus.
When needed, care in an intensive care unit (ICU) can be lifesaving for seriously ill patients. Such patients receive fluids and support for their lungs.
How does coronavirus compare to other viruses?
It is unknown how serious coronavirus is at this time. Based on numbers from China alone, the mortality rate is less than 1%. Even 1% is likely an overestimate since data may not include cases that are unreported from those who recovered without seeking medical care.
To compare, flu typically also has a mortality rate less than 1% worldwide. The death rate of Sars, another coronavirus from the early 2000’s, was more than 10%.
Should I be concerned about coronavirus?
Oklahomans, as with all US residents have a very low risk of catching this form of coronavirus. Two Oklahoma residents who recently traveled to China are among the more than 100 being tested for the virus in the US. The results have not yet been made available to the public.
We are much more likely to come down with the flu. Consider receiving the flu vaccine if you have not done so. Reducing flu cases will reduce the burden on health services should the outbreak turn into a larger problem. Although you are not guaranteed to remain flu-free, studies demonstrate that hospitalization, complications, ICU admission, and death are less likely to occur in flu patients who received the vaccine.
Healthcare professionals may be at risk if they treat a patient who traveled to China recently.
Soon, we will learn exactly how contagious the coronavirus is. Cases of death due to coronavirus will likely climb due to travel and the rapid spread the illness has seen, but this does not mean we should panic.
As more information becomes available from public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), we will share this information to help you and your family remain healthy.
Travel to China has greatly decreased to help stop the spread, and New Year’s celebrations in the country have mostly been canceled. The city of Wuhan, Hong Kong, and some other Chinese cities are on lockdown.
As always, our CCMH Providers are here for you if you have any concerns.
1 Helen Regan, Steve George, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt and Meg Wagner. CNN. Hong Kong closes China borders as Wuhan coronavirus spreads. 28 Jan. 2020.
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