Coronavirus and You

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

The New Coronavirus, known as the nCoV-2019, has sparked tremendous fear and interest within the last few weeks. I was asked if I could write on this topic in response to the inquiry about what this new Coronavirus is, and how does it affect you. As a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, I get daily updates on respiratory conditions. On January 23, 2020 I received an article from CHEST, a professional organization specializing in respiratory diseases. Their “Leading the News” session published an update on the nCoV-2019. I would like to abstract their highlights for you. But before we do that, let us understanding what the coronavirus is about.

A coronavirus is a viral infection much like the common cold. It is not particularly dangerous unless you have a compromised immune system, and most people will get a coronavirus at some point in their lives. In addition, most people recover within a few days.

There have been a few cases in which specialized types of coronaviruses have caused deaths. That is the case with the Middle East respiratory syndrome otherwise known as MERS. However, most coronaviruses are not dangerous and will disappear with the same sort of treatment that you would give a cold. They may cause an infection in the nose, sinuses and upper throat. In the case of MERS, the infection may cause respiratory symptoms that can be rather serious. In our case, the nCoV-2019 was first identified in Wuhan, China.  This potentially deadly virus represents a threat globally similar to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) that devastated Asia in 2003. The reported deaths (from the CHEST article on January 23, 2020) were 18. I pointed out the date because as I am writing today on January 26, 2020, the number of deaths has increased to over 22, with possibly over 2000 infected, gravely ill patients. Most of those who died were elderly men with a median age of 75 with medical conditions prior to the positive nCoV-2019 finding. One single patient infected 14 health care workers.  A team of researchers at the Imperial College London predicts that there would have been 4,000 cases in Wuhan by January 18, 2020. In other words, we might not have a very accurate account of this deadly virus.

So far, five countries were infected. We did have a case in Washington’s Snohomish County. Apparently this traveler to China became the first U.S. resident with a positive nCoV-2019 finding.  Reportedly 30 residents are doing well in an isolation unit at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle. Just heard on the news: there are five cases now in the U.S.

In the U.S. the risk to the general public remains low. However, since we are very mobile and global, international airports take steps to screen for Wuhan coronavirus. Thermal screening at the gate is not 100% effective; a good example is our SARS experience. In Canada airport screen failed to detect a single case of SARS, but 43 Canadians ended up dying from the disease. I just heard from the Hong Kong news that two of their patients did not present with fever. Hence thermal screening is not a reliable measure.

Most hospitals in the U.S. do have precautions in place.  I work in a hospital outpatient setting. We are asked to screen patients’ travel history and symptoms. We have procedure in place to identify, and isolate suspected cases, and facilities to quarantine patients if needed.

But at the epic center in Wuhan, China. This is a critical time for the health authority to exercise emergency measures. The central government limited travel outside Wuhan, and two nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. Theatres, Internet café, and public activities are closed. Hence 18 million citizens of these three cities are locked down indefinitely until further notice.

International group is funding three efforts to develop vaccine against Wuhan coronavirus. The group aims to have at least one potential vaccine in clinical trials by June.

At this time WHO (World Health Organization) declines to declare a global emergency in response to Wuhan coronavirus.

During this flu season, it is common to have symptoms of headache, sore throat, a high fever, chills, muscle aches, stuffy nose, dry cough, feeling very tired, and or loss of appetite. One colleague of mine did come down with a very bad flu; she reported that she felt like there was an elephant on her chest and she could not breathe well. Thus the severity of your upper respiratory symptoms would determine whether you had a simple cold or a bad flu.

The bottom line is, regardless of the flu season, do the following to build up your immune system and improve your hygiene:

  • Good nutrition.
  • Sleep well.
  • Good hand-washing.
  • Wear a mask if you need to.
  • Avoid people who are coughing, or sneezing on you.
  • Stay away from members of the family who are sick.
  • It is still not too late to take the flu-vaccine.

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: exercise good hand-washing and avoid sick contact

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