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Should you worry about the coronavirus outbreak?

If you’ve kept up with news and social media in recent weeks, you’ve probably heard about the spread of a coronavirus.

But what is a coronavirus, anyway? And how concerned should you be?

Although it’s natural to feel nervous about new health threats, the new coronavirus is not a major risk to Americans right now, says Piedmont infectious diseases physician Jesse Couk, M.D.

“At this time the flu still poses the greater risk to most of us,” says Dr. Couk, who recommends getting a flu shot if you haven’t yet done so.

As news about the virus develops, you should turn to medical and scientific experts for the best information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes reliable, frequently updated details about the outbreak on its website, cdc.gov.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory illness. They’re typically mild, Dr. Couk says, and are one of the causes behind the common cold.

“You have most likely had multiple coronavirus infections during your lifetime,” he points out.

Neha Shah, M.D., also a Piedmont infectious diseases physician, adds that most coronaviruses get better on their own.

The outbreak of the new virus has been traced to Wuhan, China, where many of the first patients reportedly had ties to a seafood and animal market, the CDC notes.

“However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring,” the CDC says.

Dr. Shah explains that coronaviruses are common in many species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats.

“2019-nCoV is a betacoronavirus (like MERS and SARS), all of which have their origin in bats,” she says.

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

Dr. Couk says that symptoms of the new illness, caused by what is known as 2019-nCoV, may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. They include:

·         Fever

·         Cough

·         Shortness of breath

“2019-nCOV is most likely spread by droplets released from the nose and mouth when a person sneezes or coughs,” Dr. Couk says. “These droplets can be inhaled by those in contact with an infected individual.”

Dr. Shah points out that some people have few or no symptoms, while others can become severely ill.

“With most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are the sickest,” she says. “With 2019-nCoV, there are reports of spread from an infected patient with no symptoms to a close contact. People may be sick and not realize it, which makes it easier to transmit to others.”

Are you at risk?

The CDC says that “based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”

However, some cases have been reported in the United States.

“It is unclear now if a person can get 2019-nCoV by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes,” Dr. Shah says. However, she adds, there is no evidence that the illness is transmitted between imported goods.

If you recently spent time in China and feel ill, the CDC recommends seeking immediate medical care. However, before visiting your doctor or emergency department, call ahead to let them know what your symptoms are and that you have been in China.

“Our federal, state, and local public health officials have already taken many steps to help keep Americans safe,” Dr. Couk says.

How to prevent coronavirus

Although there is currently no vaccine for 2019-nCoV, you can help protect yourself by doing the same things you would to prevent other respiratory sickness, the CDC says.

The CDC recommends the following:

·         Wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer if hand-washing is not an option.

·         Do not touch your face with unwashed hands.

·         Avoid close contact with ill people.

·         Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently.

·         Stay home if you’re sick.

·         Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and throw the tissue in the trash promptly.

No cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in Georgia. Piedmont Healthcare is following CDC guidelines for healthcare professionals and monitoring the virus’ spread.

Dr. Shah advises checking the CDC’s website frequently to find the latest recommendations.

“This is an evolving situation,” she says. “Please refer to cdc.gov for updates.”

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