Questions and Answers About Coronavirus

January 20, 2020

An outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus has caused worry among people all around the world. Rush is committed to preparing for any possible scenario and answering any questions patients might have concerning the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China.

So what is this virus? Should Americans be afraid of a possible outbreak? What can we do in terms from prevention?

Here, Michael Lin, MD, MPH, an infectious disease specialist, and Alexander Tomich, DNP, associate vice president of regulatory and clinical effectiveness, discuss the outbreak and what it means for the everyday American. You also can hear their conversation on the Medical Center’s podcast, “The Rush Cast.”

What is coronavirus?

“Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that affect mammals, and they circulate in the animal population as well as the human population,” Lin explains. “In humans, year after year, it causes the common cold, but occasionally there are new coronaviruses that jump from animals to humans and that’s when we see problems. “

The new coronavirus that is causing alarm is known as 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. It is called novel because it hasn’t been seen in human beings before.  It first was identified in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Because the virus is new, the investigation of it is evolving rapidly and being updated frequently.  

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a cough, fever and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure. 

Lin and Tomich say that while these symptoms can start off to be flu-like, they will develop into more serious problems, such as severe breathlessness and even death.

Who is at risk?

The majority of people at risk for the new coronavirus are those who live in or have recently traveled to Wuhan. If you have been in contact with someone who has traveled to Wuhan recently, you may be at risk as well. Older people and those with pre-existing conditions are more susceptible to a severe case of the virus.

“What we’ve seen is that most of the people who have been reported as dying from this new coronavirus tend to be older and tend to have pre-existing conditions,” Lin says.

Lin Tomich Coronavirus

What can I do to protect myself?

At the moment, there is no vaccine for 2019 Novel Coronavirus. You can protect yourself from this disease the same way you protect yourself and others from the flu and various respiratory illnesses.

  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands with soap and water, or using hand sanitizer when soap is not available, is a great way to prevent the spread of any disease.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or face when hands are unwashed
  • Stay home when you are sick. If you aren’t feeling well, the best way to stop the spread of disease is to stay away from heavily populated areas like work or school.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Clean and disinfect household surfaces frequently

“We really focus on the route of transmission as well, because when you look at this novel coronavirus, or SARS or even Ebola, for example, all of these agents are all spread in a certain way,” Tomich says. “If we attack that route of transmission with a few simple interventions, it really goes a long way toward preventing the spread.”

What treatments are available for coronavirus?

Unfortunately there currently is no cure for novel coronavirus. If you are diagnosed with the virus you will receive supportive care, similar to someone with the flu. This treatment will help relieve symptoms as your body recovers. Severe cases will receive care to help support vital organ functions. If you think been exposed to 2019-nCoV you should contact your health care provider immediately.

Should I cancel my travel plans?

The CDC recommends that you avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Should I be scared of coronavirus?

While this novel virus is a very new and serious problem in China, it is not something to panic about here in the United States. Specialists within the public health community know how to identify this virus and prevent its spread.

“I would say that especially in the United States this new coronavirus is not spreading in the community,” Lin says. “We’re in a good place right now from a public health standpoint to be able to respond.”

Tomich adds that sticking to fundamentals can be a big help in reassuring the public.

“I would recommend that adhering to the basics really goes a long way in terms of protecting us and stopping the transmission not only of coronavirus but of other infectious agents that occur as well,” he says.

What is Rush doing to prepare for the virus?

Rush staff ask screening questions when patients arrive at the Medical Center, and these questions have been updated to identify those who may have traveled to China in recent weeks.

The hospital has been designed to treat an influx of patients with an infectious disease.

“We have capabilities in our emergency department of converting one of the pods into negative air pressure should we receive an influx of patients requiring some type of airborne isolation,” Tomich explains.

In 2014, Rush was designated as an Ebola treatment center. Because of this responsibility, the Medical Center built a separate high consequence infectious disease unit. This unit can be utilized if the Medical Center admits a patient with any type of highly contagious infectious agent. The patient can be isolated from the rest of the hospital and still be provided appropriate care. 

Members of the nursing staff also are specifically trained in treating patients with high consequence infectious diseases and agents. The Medical Center’s world-renowned infectious disease staff have a great degree of expertise in treating new agents and novel agents and is available 24/7 to staff, patients and visitors.

“Rush is more than ready to deal with cases like this,” Tomich says.

Flu season reminder

While the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a serious illness that can spread from human to human, Lin and Tomich remind everyone that preventing the flu is just as important. The probability of the average American being infected by the flu is far higher than contracting the new coronavirus at this time. Washing your hands and staying home when feeling ill are vital for preventing the spread of the flu. Most importantly, getting your flu shot, if you haven’t already, is the best way to stay safe this influenza season.

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