3 things to know about the new coronavirus

Top U.S. and global health officials continue to provide details on the coordinated public health response to the novel virus and maintain that the threat to the general public is extremely low, even as misinformation has flooded through certain parts of the internet.

The recent outbreak of the new coronavirus in China that has affected five people in the U.S. remains at the epicenter of media coverage, which has raised questions about the risk for Americans.

Dr. Robert Citronberg, director of infectious diseases at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, breaks down three things you should know about the respiratory illness.

Threat of coronavirus in the U.S. is low. People should be more worried about the flu.

“The risk to the general population remains extremely low,” says Dr. Citronberg. “The only people we are concerned about are those who have traveled to the affected areas, which is mostly Wuhan City, China, and people who are in close contact to those who have traveled to the area.”

To put it in context, 54 infants have died from the flu in the U.S. this season, and a total of 8,200 deaths have been reported, says Dr. Citronberg. On average, 30,000 Americans die from influenza per year.

Symptoms are similar to the common cold

“Symptoms range from minimal respiratory complaints like mild cough and congestion, to severe symptoms including fever, pneumonia and respiratory failure,” says Dr. Citronberg.

For people with mild illness, the symptoms of the novel coronavirus may be identical to those caused by the common cold.

Dr. Citronberg recommends the usual methods of infection prevention:

  • Wash your hands for at least 30 seconds (or sing the Happy Birthday song twice)
  • Use alcohol hand sanitizer for diligent hand hygiene
  • Stay home when sick and avoid people who show symptoms of a respiratory infection
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease has not spread through human-to-human contact in the U.S. Currently, there are no recommendations for the general public to wear masks when going outside.

Health officials implemented health screenings at hospitals and airports

All hospitals have strong infection prevention processes and procedures in place which includes screening of patients for fever and/or respiratory symptoms and travel history to Wuhan/Hubei Province, China, says Dr. Citronberg.

The CDC and the State Department expanded their travel advisories to cover all of China and recommend travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the country. The U.S. plans to expand screening for the virus from five to 20 airports.

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