The coronavirus (officially named COVID-19) is a viral respiratory disease with symptoms including fever, coughing and shortness of breath. It could progress to pneumonia, multi-organ failure and even death.
Since it was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December, the virus has infected over 64,000 people globally. In comparison, influenza kills about 400,000 people every year, including 34,200 Americans last flu season and 61,000 the year before, according to the World Health Organization.
Several countries have imposed travel bans to China and tightened their screening process for travelers who have recently been to that country. People returning to the U.S. from China are quarantined for 14 days. Japan, which has seen one death linked to the virus, said this week the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is still on track to take place without any “organizational changes.”
AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
The coronavirus has been confirmed in more than 25 countries around the world, including in the United States.
Jamie Swift, the corporate director of infection prevention at Ballad Health, said the hospital system is continually monitoring the coronavirus situation.
“Obviously, it’s an evolving situation across the world right now and something we’re keeping our eyes on,” Swift said. “We’re staying in contact with our CDC leaders and Tennessee and Virginia Departments of Health leaders and just preparing for it.”
At the local level, Ballad Health officials have obviously added “China” to the list of travel-related questions asked of patients who show up with respiratory issues. Those types of questions have been asked for years due to other outbreaks related to travel.
“The key to all of this is the travel question. Your travel history tells us a lot about a patient, the risk and what diseases to consider,” Swift said. “We’re just encouraging the public to be very forthcoming with their travel history.”
YOUR BEST PREVENTION
Right now, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low in the United States. There are no reported case in our region. Regardless, Ballad Health has received some phone calls from local residents asking about the risk and what to do to prevent infection, Swift said.
The 15 Americans identified so far with the disease had recently been in China or had close contact with someone who had become infected in China. In addition, public health officials report that many of the U.S. cases have been relatively mild infections.
World health organizations are recommending the best way to prevent contracting the coronavirus is much the way you prevent other viruses: Frequently wash your hands with soap and water; do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoid sharing personal household items; and if you think you’re sick, stay home.
“These are control measures that work for viruses in general,” Swift said. “The things you do to prevent the flu also prevent this should it become a disease to be concerned about in our area.”