As a new type of coronavirus rages through China and spreads to other countries, including the United States, the public understandably has a lot of questions about the illness and how to avoid it.
As of Feb. 25, 77,780 people had been infected and more than 2,666 had died in China. There are 2,459 cases outside of China and 34 deaths. Fourteen people tested in the United States have had the novel coronavirus, including a Snohomish County man who fell ill after returning from a trip to Wuhan in mid-January — before China or the United States had implemented travel restrictions to stem the outbreak. Another 39 people who returned to the U.S. via State Department-chartered flights have also tested positive for the virus.
We’ve been asking you, our readers, what you want to know about the novel coronavirus, and we’re taking your questions to health professionals. Below are answers to some common questions that have come in recently:
What is a coronavirus? Where did this come from, and how does it spread?
Coronaviruses are a large, varied family of viruses that can circulate among animals and humans. Some cause the common cold, while others have evolved into more severe illnesses. Their name comes from the Latin word for crowns or halos, which coronaviruses resemble under a microscope.
The first cases of the novel coronavirus known officially as 2019-nCoV appeared in December in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China’s Hubei province. Many of the first people infected had visited or worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for an investigation. The virus is believed to have mutated and jumped from animal to human, and it’s now spreading from person to person, although it’s unclear how easily.
Many coronaviruses can spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching an infected person.
Coronaviruses regularly circulate around the world, said Dr. Robert L. Thompson, chair of Kaiser Permanente Washington’s prevention and control program. But this particular virus isn’t circulating in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk is much greater in central China, where the illness was first detected.
You may remember outbreaks of SARS and MERS in recent years. Those were caused by coronaviruses that emerged from animals and spread from person to person, generally between close contacts.
“When person-to-person spread has occurred with MERS and SARS, it is thought to have happened mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread,” according to the CDC.
“Genetic analyses suggest this virus emerged from a virus related to SARS,” according to the CDC, which continues to study 2019-nCoV.
The new coronavirus has so far mostly affected people older than 60 and those with underlying health issues.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In serious cases, the virus can cause pneumonia. Some patients have needed oxygen. Others have had only mild illness.
Is there a treatment or vaccine for the virus?
There are currently no specific medicines recommended for the novel coronavirus, according the CDC and the World Health Organization. For now, doctors are treating symptoms with anti-fever drugs. Some doctors are trying antiviral drugs developed for HIV or Ebola.
There also is no vaccine yet, but researchers at the National Institutes of Health and various pharmaceutical companies are working on one. Vaccines can often take months if not years to develop.
Are there travel restrictions because of this outbreak? Is it safe to go to China or other parts of Asia? Are passengers coming through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport being screened?
The United States has warned its citizens not to travel to China. For other countries, check the CDC’s latest travel advisories and warnings at cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines recently suspended flights between the U.S. and China. Hainan Airlines and Delta are the only carriers with direct flights from mainland China to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and both have canceled such flights, said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper.
Significant U.S. entry restrictions went into effect on Feb. 2. An order signed by President Donald Trump temporarily bars entry to the U.S. of foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days.
Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening at select ports of entry and be required to undertake 14 days of self-screening to ensure they don’t pose a health risk. Those returning from Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.
Flights to the U.S. from China will be funneled to 11 major airports where passengers can be screened for illness: Sea-Tac, John F. Kennedy International in New York, San Francisco International in California, O’Hare International in Chicago, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International in Georgia, Daniel K. Inouye International in Hawaii, Washington-Dulles International Airport in Virginia, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
The screening plan requires officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to give information from the CDC to passengers from China explaining what to do if they start showing symptoms in line with the novel coronavirus within 14 days of arriving in the United States. Any travelers showing signs of illness related to the virus and who have been in China will be moved along to CDC staff at the airport. at Sea-Tac. He wants arriving passengers’ temperatures taken and to have them provide a recent health history.
How is the patient in Snohomish County doing? What about people who have come into contact with him?
The patient, a 35-year-old man, was discharged from Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett after being in an isolation unit since Jan. 20. Since his discharge he was quarantined at home for about three weeks and monitored by the Snohomish Health District. The man is now considered fully recovered and is no longer quarantined at home.
The man had been traveling solo in Wuhan since November. He flew into Sea-Tac on Jan. 15 and began noticing symptoms a few days later, at which point he contacted his doctor and was hospitalized. When he tested positive for the novel coronavirus, he became the United States’ first confirmed case.
Public health officials are monitoring for symptoms such as fever or cough in 384 people in Washington who had been in China the past 14 days.
What about the four University of Washington students who were screened for the novel coronavirus after a trips to China? Which dorm were they in?
Three students tested negative for the novel coronavirus in January. One of the students lives off-campus. The other two live on campus, but UW isn’t saying where opting instead to notify their roommates directly. The students were kept in isolation until their test results came back.
A fourth student who lives off-campus and traveled to Beijing in January tested negative for the virus.
On Feb. 6 students, faculty and staff were told by UW’s administration that if they have been to mainland China on Feb. 3 or later that they stay home and monitor their health for two weeks from their last day in China. The request mirrors that of what the CDC is suggesting for people who have traveled to China. Earlier in the week, UW officials decided to restrict travel to China by students, faculty and staff.
Should I avoid Sea-Tac Airport and UW’s Seattle campus?
No need to avoid those places, even if your immune system is compromised, and you shouldn’t worry even if you were at Sea-Tac on the same day as the Snohomish County patient, said Jeff Duchin of Public Health – Seattle & King County. The virus isn’t circulating there or anywhere else in the region, he said.
How can I avoid catching the novel coronavirus? Should I wear a mask?
Do what you would do to avoid catching the flu: Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover your mouth and nose when coughing and stay home from work or school if you have a fever and cough, Thompson said.
Masks can block large droplets from sneezes and coughs. They also can stop people from touching their own mouths and noses, another way to stop germs. While a mask should be worn if you’re having a respiratory issue, especially if you’re at a clinic or hospital, there’s no need to wear one while going about daily life in the U.S. if you’re not sick, Duchin said.
Can packages containing items made in China carry a coronavirus to the U.S.?
In the age of Amazon, a lot of packages are being dropped on doorsteps containing products made in China. But the risk of the coronavirus hitching a ride on those products is very low, according to the CDC, because coronaviruses don’t survive for long on surfaces, especially when being shipped for a period of days or weeks in ambient temperatures.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.