Should you worry about the coronavirus?
Turn on the news, and all you hear is terrifying statistics about the coronavirus. Like how there's been more than 20,000 cases confirmed and how nearly 500 people have died. But do you know if you should really be worried about it and what your risks of contracting it actually are?
When it comes to getting the lowdown on new, emerging diseases, health care professionals turn to the Centers for Disease Control as their No. 1 resource. So, here's the real scoop from the CDC on what the average American should know about the coronavirus.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses common in many animal species. This particular virus is technically called 2019-nCoV. While it's rare for animal coronaviruses to infect people and then spread between them, it's happened before with MERS and SARS. Now, it's apparently happened with 2019-nCoV.
As you know, the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, which features a large seafood and animal market. It's presumed the virus spread from animals to humans there.
How is it transmitted?
Typically, the virus will be spread from person-to-person from a distance of 6 feet or less. It occurs when an infected person coughs or sneezes, spreading infected respiratory droplets to another person's nose or mouth. (This is how flu is spread as well.) People are thought to be most contagious when they're most symptomatic.
It isn't clear right now if you can contract the coronavirus by touching a surface that has the virus on it, so it's important to practice good hygiene (more on that below).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, appearing within two to 14 days following exposure. Some infected people have little or no symptoms. As with any virus, older people, children and those with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable.
Is there a treatment?
Unfortunately, there isn't a specific antiviral treatment right now. Therefore, patients are receiving supportive care to help relieve their symptoms.
Am I at risk?
A handful of travelers returning to the U.S. have been found to be infected, as have a few of their close contacts. Of the 11 cases in the U.S., two -- a husband and wife -- are in the Chicago area.
However, the government has taken steps to isolate these individuals, so the coronavirus is NOT currently spreading in the community. As such, the CDC considers the risk to the American public low.
How do I minimize my risk?
Minimizing your risk of infection includes following the same common-sense steps you're (hopefully) already taking to avoid the flu, which include:
• Frequently wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
• Use alcohol-based sanitizer (60% alcohol) when soap and water isn't available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Stay away from sick people and stay home when you're sick.
• Cover every cough or sneeze.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
While it's always advisable to practice good preventive hygiene, your risk of catching the coronavirus is actually quite low. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.