Coronavirus and you: Some FAQs

Shelly Haberman

The coronavirus that has caused numerous deaths in China is a source of concern worldwide. Like any public health issue, questions about coronavirus are on many people’s minds. So, we spoke with SSM Health Director of Infection Prevention Chris Zirges to answer some of the most common questions about the illness.

Is coronavirus brand new?

The answer is both yes and no. Actually, coronavirus is a type of virus that was first identified nearly fifty years ago. There are many types of viruses, but recently the virus associated with China is of concern because of the increase in numbers and associated deaths, initially within China. This virus is called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019 nCoV -- novel meaning new.

How does coronavirus spread?

Viruses typically spread by respiratory droplets. This can occur by coughing or sneezing.  The spread or transmission can occur within six feet of an infected person.  While this applies to the common cold or influenza, the same principle applies to the 2019 nCoV (coronavirus).

How do clinicians protect themselves?

Because this virus is new, health care workers are asked to protect themselves by wearing a mask when in contact with a patient suspected of having this type of virus. The patient is also placed in a negative pressure room (if available) or contained in a private room and must wear an isolation mask. These precautions are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  because this is a new virus and how the respiratory droplets spread is still being studied.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Symptoms for the coronavirus mimic those of other respiratory illnesses—mainly fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath.

How much risk is there for people in the U.S.?

It is important to remember that the risk is low within the United States and precautions you should take to prevent influenza will minimize your risk of getting other viruses, including the coronavirus. One must have traveled to the impacted area in China and/or been exposed to an infected person from that region of China to acquire the virus.  As of this writing, the risk to those within the U.S. remains low.  You have a better chance of getting influenza as the flu virus is widespread throughout the country.

Could all of this information change next week or next month?

Yes. The information regarding the spread of the illness and how people get sick is constantly being updated because this is a new virus. The CDC is the best source of current information on coronavirus.

What should I know if I plan to travel overseas?

If you are traveling abroad, check the CDC website often and be aware of travel restrictions.

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