Local health officials on watch for coronavirus

by Kate Evans

Local health officials and physicians are prepared for and watching for any emergence of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Some 15 confirmed cases in the United States have been linked to travel to China, especially to Wuhan in Hubei Province where the outbreak originated.

There are no confirmed cases in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania or Virginia. States that currently have cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus are Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent novel coronavirus test kits to qualified U.S., state and local public health labs and issued guidelines and preparedness checklists for health care providers to evaluate patients that are potentially infected with COVID-19.

Providers are particularly watching for people that have recently traveled to China that have fever and respiratory symptoms. They are told to have recommended infection control procedures in place.

As of February 15, some 1,524 people have died of COVID-19 in China and more than 50,580 people have been laboratory-confirmed as infected globally, 50,054 of them in China, according to the World Health Organization. (WHO) There are 526 lab-confirmed cases in 25 countries outside of China along with two deaths. More than 1,700 Chinese health care workers are sick with the virus.

The outbreak is caused by a novel coronavirus, one not seen in humans before. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses and are zoonotic, meaning they’re transmitted between animals and people, according to WHO information.

Common human coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper respiratory symptoms and illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Common symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever along with shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, said WHO officials.

The World Health Organization (WHO) noted that 80% of the cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been mild with cold-like or flu-like symptoms. Older people and those with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes appear to be more vulnerable to developing severe illness from the virus.

People with the COVID-19 disease may become ill anywhere from two days to 14 days after exposure to the virus. The CDC advised that people contact their primary care physician if they have been in China in the past two weeks and developed symptoms.

Illness prevention is the same as recommendations for curbing the move of influenza and other seasonal illnesses — frequent hand washing with soap, covering coughs and sneezes.

Avoid close contact with anyone having respiratory illness symptoms like coughing and sneezing and maintain three feet of distance between yourself and others, especially those exhibiting signs of illness.

Stay home when you’re sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and disinfect frequently touched surfaces or objects often.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued recommendations that travelers avoid all non-essential travel to China.

Local impact

Morgan County Schools Secondary Education Director Elizabeth Golden was planning a trip to China for the 2020 China History and Culture Trip for West Virginia Educational Administrators in April. School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said at the February 4 school board meeting that the group Golden was planning to travel with has rescheduled the trip for next spring instead.

Jill Klein Rone, Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Festival organizer, said water festival entries from China weren’t from anywhere of concern. No representatives from those companies were attending the festival, which takes place this weekend.

Rone said that the presenting sponsor of the Lifetime Achievement Award –WaterExpo Guangzhou 2020 and Guangzhou Informa Yi Fan Exhibitions Co., Ltd of China –wouldn’t be sending a representative.

Sponsor contact Abbey Chow couldn’t get promotional materials printed and mailed in time for the water tasting event due to the extended Chinese New Year’s Holiday, Rone said. The materials were printed locally instead.

Seasonal flu

The CDC estimates that as of February 8 there has been 26 million cases of seasonal flu in the United States so far this flu season.   There have also been around 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths from influenza, including 92 children.

Flu cases continue to crop up in this area, and public health officials have said residents should continue to follow guidelines for preventing disease spread and care.