How Concerned Should My Family Be About The Coronavirus?
By Paul Hendricks – 2-4-20
Q: Should our family be concerned about the coronavirus in China coming to the United States?
A: There are currently only a limited number of cases confirmed in the United States of the “novel” or new coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China. The vast majority of cases still are localized to China, and while a number of patients have died, there have been no deaths to date in the United States. The cases in this country have been primarily in people who have recently arrived from the affected province and also include the spouse of an earlier known patient. This has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization primarily to provide increased support to countries with less-rigorous public health systems than the United States has.
Coronavirus is the scientific classification for a large group of viruses that infect a variety of animal species, including pigs, birds, cats, cows, dogs and chickens. In rare cases, these viruses can make the jump from animal to human. Most illnesses caused by coronaviruses are minor, such as the common cold, but occasionally new strains can cause more severe illness. The Wuhan coronavirus may have originated at a large seafood and animal market, but many cases are now clearly occurring from person-to-person spread. There also has been one credible report from Germany of possible spread from a person who had recently traveled to Germany from China and did not have symptoms.
Symptoms of concern for coronavirus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, along with travel or exposure history. Older patients and those with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness. By comparison, in the United States there have been more than 15 million illnesses from influenza (flu) this season alone, 8,200 of which have resulted in fatality.
The risk of contracting the novel coronavirus in the U.S. is considered low, but it is always advisable to err on the side of caution so as to minimize that risk. The only people who are currently considered at risk are those who have recently traveled to China, especially the Wuhan area, and developed fever with lower respiratory symptoms within 14 days of their trip, or who have had close contact with a sick person who has been confirmed to have this virus. People who meet those conditions should contact their physician or other health care provider before presenting to an emergency room or other health care facility for advice on how to be evaluated and treated safely while protecting others. There is currently no evidence of risk from items imported from China.
The U.S. State Department recommends no travel to China. When traveling to other locations, it is always wise to be sure all your travel vaccines are up to date and to avoid contact with people who are noticeably sick. Many viruses, including the coronavirus, can be passed from person to person. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap for 20 seconds or more, and keep a supply of hand sanitizer with you at all times.
Probably the best advice is to keep yourself informed. Although the current threat level in the U.S. is low, this is a rapidly evolving situation and it is always best to know the latest information. Information is being updated regularly, and what is being reported on social media is not always accurate. The CDC is working hard to stay on top of this situation and currently offering frequent updates at its website CDC.gov/novelcoronavirus. The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department is closely monitoring this situation through the State Health Department and the CDC.
— Paul Hendricks, M.D., Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department