Update, as of Jan. 30: The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus an international health emergency.
The coronavirus may have arrived in Central Virginia. While 2 of the 3 cases under investigation by the Virginia Department of Health have been found to not be the coronavirus, we’re still waiting on news about the third case.
And globally, the infection rates are climbing. If you’re starting to feel a little nervous, you should know:
- You’re not alone
- There’s no need to panic
William Petri, MD, an infectious disease expert, offers some guidance to clarify the myths and facts.
What is the Coronavirus?
Myth: The coronavirus is new.
Fact: Yes and no. Technically, this strain or version of the coronavirus — called 2019-nCoV or the Wuhan coronavirus — is new to humans, although previously, it lived in animals.
Remember outbreaks of MERS and SARS? Those were also coronaviruses. They, too, had once lived only in animals, then jumped to humans. (MERS and SARS likely started in bats.)
Other, less dangerous strains of coronaviruses exist around the world and cause certain common colds. Generally, these viruses cause the familiar onslaught of respiratory infection symptoms: a runny nose, headaches, cough, fever and sore throat.
Myth: My child is sniffling. It’s probably the coronavirus.
Fact: No, your child probably does not have the new (Wuhan) coronavirus. Only 5 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. If you have traveled to Wuhan or other areas in central China recently, you should call your doctor if you develop cold symptoms and/or fever, coughing and shortness of breath. If you go to your doctor’s office or the emergency room, you should call ahead and wear a face mask when you enter. Coronavirus symptoms can show up anywhere from 2 to 14 days after you’re exposed to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control has the latest coronavirus cases tracked on a map.
Myth: You can spread this coronavirus if you don’t have symptoms.
Fact: Initially, investigators thought only people with symptoms of the virus could spread it to other people. Recently, a report from China suggests that the virus may spread before symptoms show. If true, this would be quite different from SARS, where transmission does not occur until a person has symptoms. The CDC is tracking close contacts of patients with this new coronavirus very closely. So far, they’ve found no clear evidence thus far of patients being infectious before the onset of symptoms. At this time, we just don’t have enough information to say that someone can pass this virus on before they show signs of infection themselves.
How to Avoid Getting Infected
Myth: If I had a flu shot, I’m vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Fact: We don’t have a vaccine to protect against this strain of the coronavirus. Even if you had a flu shot, you could get this infection. However, research is ongoing to develop a vaccine that could be tested as soon as later this year.
Myth: You have to wear a face mask to stay safe.
Fact: Currently, health officials do not recommend everyone in central Virginia start wearing masks. Washing your hands is always a good idea however!
However, if you plan to come into close or direct contact with someone with a known coronavirus infection, the advice changes.
Myth: I’ll need to take extra precautions to avoid catching the coronavirus.
Fact: Right now, follow the same good hygiene habits you use to avoid catching the common cold:
- Wash your hands, especially after coughing, sneezing, cooking, eating, touching animals and providing healthcare.
- Use hand sanitizer.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Clean handrails, doorknobs and toys.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact (such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils) with people who are sick.
What to Do if You’re at Risk for Coronavirus
If you have recently traveled to Hubei Province, including Wuhan, and you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical care from your primary care doctor or the emergency room. Call first; explain your travel history and condition; wear a facemask.
What Happens if You Get Sick
Myth: If you are pretty healthy, with no underlying diseases or conditions, you don’t need to worry about the coronavirus.
Fact: Scientists don’t have all the answers about this strain of the coronavirus as of yet. While most of those who have died had underlying health issues, some people didn’t. No antiviral treatment exists to cure this strain of the coronavirus, although supportive care does help.
Myth: If you get the coronavirus, you die.
Fact: Almost all people who have been infected with this coronavirus strain have survived.