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The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be front page in the news. Community transmission has been reported in the United States. At UnityPoint Health, we are carefully monitoring the situation with the virus to stay prepared and keep our communities safe and healthy. Rosanna Rosa, MD, is one of our Infectious Diseases doctors and is providing you with accurate information on your top Coronavirus questions.
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.
In terms of where it started, it seems to have originated in Wuhan, China. Early reports were linking cases to the seafood and animal market over there. As of March 4, there have been 148 U.S. cases, including several linked to person-to-person spread. Eleven people have died from the virus.
We know most people have fever, cough and shortness of breath. Milder symptoms can include body aches, and less frequently diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
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. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. According to the CDC, it may be possible for someone to get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Right now, there is no specific medication or vaccine against this Novel Coronavirus. If someone gets sick, the type of treatment they would receive is more to alleviate symptoms, and if they get very sick then they would receive other types of supportive therapies in the hospital.
We know there is what we call a spectrum of illness. Many people have had what would be considered a mild illness, including 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 its elderly patients and patients with underlying illnesses 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.
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:
If a person is found to have fever or respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to an impacted geographic area, 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.
Ultimately, where a person is treated will depend on how sick they are. If 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.
The CDC has issued a level three warning and that essentially recommends people avoid all non-essential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
The number of cases in the U.S. are low. There are other things far scarier, at this point, for the Midwest. Influenza activity remains high. There's been an estimated 32 million cases of flu, 310,000 hospitalization and 18,000 deaths from it. The good thing is we have a vaccine for the flu.
We continue to recommend handwashing. If you don't have soap and water available, then it's OK 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.
You can find accurate and updated information from us at UnityPoint Health and from the CDC. It is encouraging to see that the CDC has been partnering with some of the big internet browser companies to make its results pop to the top of your during searches.