Large cities on lockdown. Flights suspended. A rising death toll … a global health emergency. The headlines are anxiety-producing, even for those oceans away from the epicenter of this health crisis.
The spread of a novel strain of coronavirus (COVID-19), first reported in Wuhan, a major industrial city in East-Central China in December, is a human tragedy playing out in that country – and now beyond in Japan, South Korea, Iran and elsewhere – with more than 80,000 confirmed cases, nearly 3,000 deaths, and day-to-day life altered with patients in quarantine, jittery financial markets and worldwide economic impacts, and hospitals overwhelmed with patients.
In the weeks that have followed, public health officials have learned more about COVID-19, particularly that it is capable of human-to-human transmission. Confirmed cases have been reported in 47 countries, including the United States. As of Feb. 27, none have been reported in Ohio.
“Akron Children’s is closely monitoring new developments with this coronavirus with the CDC, WHO and other health organizations,” said Dr. John Bower, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Akron Children’s. “We already ask patients at all of our offices about international travel as part of our medical history protocol, and we continue to fine tune this process as new viruses emerge, such as asking about travel to the specific region of China where the current coronavirus outbreak is centered.”
What makes this virus different?
Coronaviruses are common respiratory viruses which are normally found throughout the world in humans and animals, including the United States. In fact, every winter up to 35% of respiratory infections in the United States are caused by several well-established strains of human coronaviruses. What makes the current outbreak in China different is that an animal strain has mutated to form a new strain of coronavirus that is highly aggressive in humans due to a lack of immunity.
How bad will it get?
Scientists are focused on finding answers to the following 6 questions and those answers will determine how far the virus will spread and how quickly the outbreak can be contained.
- How contagious is the virus?
- How deadly is the virus?
- How long does it take someone to show symptoms?
- How much have infected people traveled?
- How effective will the response be?
- How long will it take to develop a vaccine?
These questions are further explored in this regularly-updated New York Times story.
The United States is less susceptible to an outbreak like the Wuhan-centered coronavirus because of long-established regulations for food processing and handling, and our strong national network of hospitals and public health institutions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention down to our county-level public health agencies.
So far, the confirmed cases of the virus in the United States seem to have been contained by good public health practices, such as requiring those people returning to the United States from China to remain in isolation until they are no longer infectious. However, CDC officials believe a patient in California may be the first confirmed case where the patient was not exposed to the virus by a returning traveler who was infected.
Who’s at risk?
According to Dr. Bower, the current clinical features and “epidemiologic” risk is for:
- Individuals who have fever, and symptoms such as lower respiratory illness (i.e. cough and difficulty breathing, AND
- In the last 14 days before symptoms onset, have had a history of travel from Hubei Province, China, OR
- In the last 14 days before symptoms onset, have had close contact with a person who is under investigation for the COVID-19 while that person was ill.
Individuals meeting these criteria should call ahead to their doctor’s office or local emergency room, where they will be asked to don a surgical mask and will be escorted to an exam room.
Just showing up in the emergency room or an urgent care center puts other patients and the health care providers at unnecessary risk of infection.
Let’s not forget about flu
The best way to avoid viruses is to wash hands often, avoid touching the face, and stay clear of people who are obviously ill.
For now, influenza remains a much larger threat in the United States. This flu season alone has sickened 19 million across the United States and had led to 10,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalizations. It’s never too late to get the flu vaccine. Learn how and where at Akron Children’s.
Are kids anxious over the scary news?
Similar to situations where there is a constant flow of tragic news –whether it be a mass shooting or natural disaster – sometimes the best approach to keeping children from becoming overly anxious is to dial back on their news exposure. The constant stream of online stories and cable news headline banners about the coronavirus can feel overwhelming.
While the radios and TVs are muted, use this opportunity to talk to children about the things they can control and the ways they can keep themselves and others healthy, such as eating healthy foods, getting a good night’s sleep, covering their coughs and following good hand hygiene.
“As parents, our first intuition is always to protect our children from ‘the tough stuff’ of the world,” said Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a pediatric psychologist. “However, children in 2020 are saturated with media, and may often learn about crises at school, on television or by talking to others. Oftentimes, children’s half-knowledge and imagined fears are more frightening than the truth so it is often recommended that you start the conversation, with a question such as ‘Are you and your friends talking about the coronavirus at school? I’d be interested to know what you think and how you are feeling.'”
It may also be reassuring to tell children that hundreds of smart, dedicated doctors and scientists worldwide are involved, caring for patients, working to stop the spread of the disease and studying the virus in laboratories so they can develop effective treatments. A vaccine is already in development.
More information about the 2019 novel coronavirus, can be found at www.cdc.gov.