The growing threat of the novel coronavirus in Asia is raising concerns as it spreads worldwide. As of Monday morning, more than 2,700 people have been sickened with the new virus that causes serious respiratory disease and 80 have died.
The first reported U.S. case of the mysterious novel coronavirus was reported in Washington State last Tuesday with others being confirmed in Illinois, California, and Arizona since then. As we have seen in the past the rapid spread of new or emerging infectious diseases is a reality with modern air travel.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that range from the common cold to much more serious diseases. These diseases can infect both humans and animals. The strain spreading in China is related to two other coronaviruses that have caused major outbreaks in recent years: the Middle East respiratory syndrome, also known as MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. The good news is that the preliminary reports suggest that the novel coronavirus is less lethal than both MERS and SARS.
Since this virus can spread from human to human, many areas are at risk.
“There is a high risk of coming to Boston given Boston Logan is an international airport and we have direct flights to Japan,” said Dr. Mark Gendreau, the Chief Medical Officer for Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals.
According to the Washington Post, Chinese health authorities said they first detected the new strain of the virus on Dec. 31 in Wuhan, a city in central China. They initially linked it to a dirty food market where seafood and mammals were sold for human consumption. Officials closed the market the next day. What likely happened, scientists said, is that people ate something infected with the virus and then became sick.
“This virus can spread through coughing and sneezing, personal contact with an infected person, touching an infected surface and then the mouth, nose or eyes,” said Dr. Gendreau. “You should protect yourself in the same ways you would against the flu: wash hands regularly, stay hydrated, and cough into your elbow so you don’t spread the virus.”
If you suspect you may be at risk for this virus, seek medical advice right away.