The deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has put travelers and health care professionals on alert. The disease originated in China and has spread to other countries, including the United States.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory. China is now listed as a Level 4 country for United States citizens, meaning no travel is advised.
Related: China Travel Advisory
On Feb. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the 13th case of COVID-19 in the United States. States with confirmed cases are: Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. For the latest updates, see the CDC map.
Dr. Susan Hoover, medical director for infection control for the Sanford Health Sioux Falls region, says hand-washing and other precautions will go a long way toward keeping you healthy.
“Really these respiratory infections can be found anywhere in the world. So you want to have the proper travel preparation for your destination,” she said
Specifically, she cautions that updated immunizations, including the flu shot, are important. A travel clinic can help you determine which immunizations you need and what preventive medications to carry in your luggage.
What is a travel clinic? Find a Sanford Health travel clinic near you
Prevention is all about reducing your exposure to the virus. Proper hygiene is critical, including:
- Washing hands frequently
- Covering coughs and sneezes
- Practicing safe food handling
- Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing
- Staying home if you are sick
“Coronavirus is a family of viruses. There are several of them that cause illness in human beings,” Dr. Hoover said. “There are some that we see here in the United States and in most adults it would generally cause what we call a cold and upper respiratory infection. This is a new kind of coronavirus that seems to have emerged just recently in the human population. People are actively studying it right now to learn more about its behavior and the spectrum of illness that it can cause.”
Read more: CDC situation summary
According to the World Health Organization, the worst cases for COVID-19 develop pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. In China, at least 1,100 people are dead and nearly 45,000 are sick with the virus.
Illnesses have also been reported across the globe. The WHO declared on Jan. 30 that the spread of this virus is a public health emergency of international concern.
Related: Read the WHO statement
Health systems taking precautions
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends caution when working with patients who may be infected with this virus. All Sanford Health locations are being urged to review CDC information on COVID-19 and to watch for updates.
“If a sick patient came to one of our clinics, we would hope that they would call ahead and say what symptoms they have and what they’re concerned about,” she said.
Patients with symptoms of a respiratory virus will be instructed to wear a mask in all Sanford Health locations. Patients who have traveled to China will put on a mask and be escorted to a private room. Sanford Health staff working with them will wear gowns, gloves, goggles or face shield, and a mask.
“Sanford Health routinely has all of that equipment available in the case of patients who may have contagious illnesses,” Dr. Hoover said. “We need to be prepared all the time. New viruses, new respiratory illnesses could come up at any time. And we are prepared at this time of year in particular for influenza. And so that takes us a long way down the road toward being aware of people who have fever and respiratory system.”
This news story will continue to develop but Dr. Hoover cautions against overreacting.
“The chance of getting things like influenza or the other types of coronaviruses that we’ve had in the United States for a long time is probably much higher than this new infection,” she said. “If you are sick, it’s always good to stay home, to protect yourself and to protect your kids.”
Other well-known types of coronavirus
- Flu season starts fast with influenza B, according to CDC
- Infant colds: What’s normal and what’s not
- Whooping cough: You may need booster as vaccine fades