Health Officials Say Coronavirus Risk to U.S. is Low
You’ve probably heard a lot about the recent outbreak of a virus in China. About 20,700 cases and over 425 deaths have been reported in the five weeks since the first person was diagnosed there in late December.
About 99 percent of the reported cases are in China and all but one of the deaths occurred there, as well. Click here for an updated map created by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Eleven people in the United States have been diagnosed in the first five weeks. (Click here for the latest information on the number of cases in the U.S.) A public health emergency has been declared in the United States, though officials say the risk here remains low.
What does all this mean for you and your loved ones? What precautions should you take? What should you do about travel? Here’s some information and resources to help answer those questions and more.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections, such as diseases like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). More than 8,000 people were diagnosed with SARS in 2003, with 774 dying from the virus that was first found in China. Only eight cases (but no deaths) were reported in the U.S.
Coronaviruses typically start in animals and are transmitted to humans.
How many cases are in the U.S. and what is the risk here?
Since the virus was discovered in late December, 11 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with 2019 novel coronavirus. They live in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington state. All but two of the patients had recently visited Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China where the new strain is believed to have originated. The other two are family members of people who visited China.
Health officials say the risk in the United States is low. All but one of the deaths in the first five weeks have occurred in China. The other was in the Philippines.
Click here for the latest from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on cases in the United States. Other resources for information are the World Health Organization and this regularly updated map created by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
What are the symptoms?
Patients have mild to severe respiratory symptoms such as a cough and difficulty breathing, as well as a fever. As with other viruses, people with underlying health conditions and older adults are more at risk
What precautions should you take if you must travel?
There’s no vaccine to prevent the newest coronavirus, so the best way to stay safe is to avoid being exposed. That’s why the State Department has warned Americans not to travel to China. Delta, American and United airlines are suspending flights to and from China beginning as early as the first week in February. Check their websites for details and updates.
However, if you do travel there:
- Talk with your healthcare provider about your travel plans. Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at a higher risk.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you haven’t washed your hands.
- Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meats), since coronaviruses typically originate in animals.
- Surgical masks may be worn if you travel to an area where the virus is widely circulating, but there’s no need right now to wear one in the United States. The masks only prevent touch contamination of your mouth, but do not keep you from breathing in viral particles.
Additionally, Dr. Kelli Wells, senior medical director of medical affairs for Florida Blue, says if you travel, avoid sharing space with someone who is sick. Keep your distance to avoid breathing in germs others might release into the air when they cough or sneeze.
Also, Wells said, make sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. An alcohol-based sanitizer can be used if soap and water aren’t available.
(This blog will be updated with important developments. Otherwise, continue to check the resources provided above.)