The 2019 Novel Coronavirus can be scary, but our experts say to take a calming breath. A UnityPoint Health infection prevention team is carefully monitoring the virus to keep our communities safe and healthy. Rosanna Rosa, MD, is in that working group and arms you with accurate information on your top Coronavirus questions to help with any unease you’re feeling.
What Is the Coronavirus?
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a new type of virus that belongs to a large family of viruses called Coronaviruses. Many of these infect humans, others infect animals, but this new strain has not been seen in humans before.
How Has Coronavirus Spread?
In terms of where it started, it seemed to have originated in Wuhan, China. Early reports were linking cases to the seafood and animal market over there. As of February 7, there have been about 20,000 cases in China with nearly 500 deaths and many cases all around the world as well. Here in the United States, there have been 12 cases and two of those cases have been linked to direct person-to-person spread among close household contacts of other patients.
What Are Coronavirus Symptoms?
We know most people have fever, cough, shortness of breath, but they've also been described as having diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and runny nose, and even some instances of some confusion as well.
How Is Coronavirus Transmitted Between People?
It is transmitted through respiratory droplets, which are essentially just tiny particles that are put out there into the world when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is how many viruses are transmitted, including the flu. So, once those droplets are put out there, then another person can just inhale them and get infected. We aren't sure yet if the virus can be transmitted by touching surfaces that have been touched by someone who is infected.
Is Coronavirus Treatable?
Right now, there is no specific treatment for this Novel Coronavirus strain known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Now if someone gets sick, the type of treatment that they would receive is more to alleviate symptoms and if they get very sick then they would receive other types of supportive respiratory therapies in the hospital. But, no, there is no specific antiviral medication or even a vaccine that we can use.
Who Is Most at Risk for Coronavirus?
We know there is what we call a spectrum of illness. Many people have had what would be considered a mild illness, like I said, some fever, some body aches and things like that. But others have gotten really sick. The information that has come out from large case reports from China continues to support that it's elderly patients and patients with underlying illnesses that are at the highest risk of developing severe illness or even death. To define further, that means elderly patients and those ones who have underlying heart disease, chronic lung disease, and conditions along those lines.
What Are We Doing at UnityPoint Health?
So, currently, we are following guidance provided by public health department in our states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At our facilities, we are screening patients for fever or respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and a history of travel to China in the past 14 days. It's important to clarify that screening is for those two things, fever or respiratory symptoms, and a history of travel.
Who Is Testing Samples Collected?
What would happen is if a person is found to have fever or respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to China, then we would contact the appropriate department of public health and arrange for testing. Now, we would test for common viruses circulating in the community such as influenza, but we would also arrange special testing for the Novel Coronavirus. Now, the Novel Coronavirus test can only be performed at the CDC. We would collect the sample and then send it to the CDC.
What Happens if There’s a Positive Test?
Ultimately, where a person is treated will depend on how sick they are. If someone comes with fever or respiratory symptoms and the history travel to China and we proceed with testing, but their illness is mild, then they would go home and follow public health’s guidance on voluntary home confinement. If a person is severely ill and needs to come to the hospital, then we would admit them and follow all the infection prevention precautions during hospitalization.
What's the Recommendation for Travel?
The CDC has issued a level three warning and that essentially recommends people avoid all non-essential travel to China.
Should We Be Worried About Coronavirus?
The number of cases here of the Novel Coronavirus here in the U.S. are very, very low. There are other things far scarier at this point for us here in the Midwest, I would say. Influenza activity at this point is actually very high. There's been an estimated 19 million cases of flu and a 180,000 hospitalization and 10,000 deaths from it. The good thing is that we have a vaccine we can use. One big recommendation is that it's not too late to get your influenza vaccine.
What Can Help Protect Us from All Viruses?
We continued to recommend hand washing. If you don't have soap and water available, then it's okay to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It's important to avoid contact with people who are looking sick. And, if you are sick yourself, stay home and give yourself a day or two to actually get better. Then the other thing is to keep the surfaces at your home clean. Lastly, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get your flu vaccine.
Where Can We Find Accurate Coronavirus Information?
You can find accurate and updated information from us at UnityPoint Health and from the CDC. It is encouraging to see that CDC has been partnering with some of the big internet browser companies to make their results pop to the top of your during searches.