February 4, 2020

What We Know about the Coronavirus So Far

CDC coronavirus

Illustration of the coronavirus created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Courtesy of the CDC.

By Robert A. Poarch

On January 30, 2020, a “public health emergency of international concern” was declared by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to coronavirus. The next day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 337 people under investigation (PUI) and 12 people who have tested positive for novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) in the United States as of February 7, 2020. There are ongoing investigations throughout the world to learn more. The CDC is monitoring the spread of coronavirus, and here is summary of their recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the United States.

What Is Coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China. Many of these patients reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spreading. A growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating it’s spreading person-to-person.

Transmission

At this time, it’s unclear how the coronavirus is spreading between people. Current knowledge is largely based on what is known about similar viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats.

Most often, person-to-person spreading happens among close contact (about 6 feet), thought to occur mainly via droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or inhaled into their lungs. It’s unclear if a person can get this coronavirus by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Prevention

There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to this virus. As with other respiratory viruses, the CDC recommends taking these precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Symptoms and Treatment

If you feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, and have traveled to China or were in close contact with someone with coronavirus in the 14 days before you began to feel sick, seek medical care. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.

There is no specific treatment recommended for this coronavirus infection. People infected with the coronavirus should receive care to help relieve symptoms. People who think they may have been exposed to coronavirus should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

What You Should Do

Stay informed. The CDC is updating its website daily with the latest information and advice for the public. For statewide information, call the North Carolina Coronavirus Helpline at 1-866-462-3821.

What You Shouldn’t Do

  • Do not travel to China.
  • Do not use face masks. The CDC doesn’t recommend the use of face masks for the general public to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
  • Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have coronavirus.

Reviewed by Jacie Volkman, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, Director of Mission Health Infection Prevention.

If you are in need of care, there is a Mission Health emergency room or walk-in clinic near you. Learn more.