Wuhan coronavirus is a concern but less of a worry than the flu, Colorado health officials say
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While there’s been much hype surrounding the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus in mainland China, it’s not as worrisome as the current flu season, according to health officials.
There are no confirmed cases of the 2019 Wuhan novel coronavirus, abbreviated as 2019-nCoV, in Colorado, though the Centers for Disease Control reported Monday there are five cases in the U.S. Over 100 suspected cases are being investigated in 26 states. Tests of a suspected case of the virus in the Denver area came back negative.
Chinese health officials have observed nearly 2,800 cases of the infection. At least 80 have died throughout Asia since the disease’s first cases Jan. 1.
Compared with the current spread of influenza, the number of those affected by the Wuhan coronavirus isn’t as large, according to Chris Olson, infection prevention and emergency preparedness program manager with UCHealth.
“We’ve got a much bigger virus that cruises through our communities every single year, and that’s the flu,” Olson said.
So far this flu season, over 15 million people have reported having the illness, 140,000 people have been hospitalized and 8,200 have died, according to the CDC.
“It’s nothing close to what the flu does annually and what it’s currently doing across the planet at the exact same time this new coronavirus is occurring,” said Olson, who formerly worked as a microbiologist in clinical laboratories.
Coronoviruses are a well-known family of viruses that appear across the world. There are six different species of them that are known to cause infections in people. The new Wuhan coronavirus makes seven.
Most of the traditional coronaviruses cause the common cold.
“Sniffles, congestion, headache, some upper-respiratory systems, but that’s it,” Olson said. “Normally, many of us have already been affected by the coronavirus over the course of our lifetime, and we just didn’t know it.”
While any of the existing coronaviruses may lead to death, the new Wuhan strain is already proving deadly. Its impact depends upon a person’s immune health, typically affecting seniors, cancer or transplant patients or anyone who has been immunosuppressed. It has found to be particularly contagious, transmitted from person to person via close contact with those who are coughing, sneezing or spitting. It can also be transmitted by people touching contaminated surfaces.
Still, the flu remains far deadlier, according to Olson.
The hype surrounding the Wuhan virus stems from the fact that it’s a new virus — one that has no treatment or cure at this time.
Symptoms of coronavirus infection may include fever, cough and/or shortness of breath and usually appear within two to 14 days. Anyone experiencing these symptoms, who also has a recent history of travel to China, especially Wuhan City, should first call a health care provider, urgent care or hospital for instructions before going to a clinic or emergency room.
People who are worried about this, or any respiratory virus, can protect themselves by practicing everyday actions:
• Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.
• Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
• Stay home if you are sick.
“Anytime you have a new virus … nobody’s been infected with it before, so we don’t have antibodies for it, we haven’t developed an immunoresponse,” Olson said. “That’s the challenge that public officials across China and right now, mostly in the Far East, are having to deal with.”
According to the CDC, the Wuhan coronavirus currently poses a very low threat to the U.S., even considering the nation’s international travel hubs. Unless a person has traveled to the specific area of China or interacted with someone who has been there and contracted the virus, there’s really no chance that a person will contract this specific Wuhan coronavirus.
“This heightened level of caution and awareness among the health care community and the general public is what we want,” said Tony Cappello, division director of Disease Control and Public Health Response with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “There’s a lot we still don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but we’re confident that Colorado’s response is strong, proactive and collaborative. Coloradans’ safety is our top priority.”
As soon as the news broke of the new virus, “infection prevention and medical officers at all of our hospitals immediately formulated a plan on how we want to deal with this,” Olson said. “Fortunately, we’ve got great plans around how to deal with new viruses.”
Many of the current preventative measures harken back to the efforts made across the U.S. in 2014 and 2015 after the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
Patients heading into health care systems will experience the same process, according to Olson. They’ll be questioned about their recent travels outside the country and asked if they’ve been to China or other sensitive areas of concern. From there, the patient will put on a mask, wash their hands and they’ll be escorted to a private room for examination. All health care workers caring for the patient will don gowns, gloves, face masks, eye protection and be extremely diligent in washing their hands and cleaning surfaces near and around the patient.
Because there is currently no treatment for the virus, health care workers can only treat its symptoms. That entails taking over-the-counter drugs to lower fever, ingesting plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest. It’s the same way you’d treat the common cold.
Most of the deaths are a result from the coronavirus symptoms advancing into pneumonia.
Though, Olson explained even if somebody does become infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, they could simply experience the effects of a common cold and nothing more.
“While it’s unlikely a major outbreak will occur in the U.S., it’s reassuring to know that precautions are in place,” said Lindsey Reznicek, communications specialist with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.
Awareness of the virus is particularly important at a time when “Steamboat Springs is receiving visitors this time of year from across the country and even around the globe,” she said.
In addition to preventative measures being taken at local health care facilities, a team has been assembled by the state to work on infection control, case investigation, contact notification and communications and are prepared to respond if there is a case.
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