What You Should Know About 2019-nCoV

January 25, 2020

Coronaviruses belong to large family of viruses that most frequently cause a mild illness like the common cold. From time to time new coronaviruses emerge and have the potential to cause severe disease and global epidemics. For example the SARS and MERS viruses are both coronaviruses that previously caused international outbreaks of severe respiratory illness.

Recently, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus (also called 2019-nCoV) began in Wuhan, China. Travelers from China have been diagnosed in many countries, including two cases in the US, one being recently diagnosed in an adult in Chicago. Fortunately, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both indicate there is no reason to be alarmed at this time and there is very little risk to the general public. 

“At this time 2019-nCoV seems to cause less severe illness and be less transmissible between humans compared to SARS and MERS,” said Larry Kociolek, MD, MSCI, Lurie Children’s Infectious Disease Specialist and Associate Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control. “We are learning more about 2019-nCoV every day, and we are working diligently at Lurie Children’s to minimize risks to our patients, families, and healthcare workers.” 

According to the CDC, at this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably the virus is spreading between people. In those patients who have been confirmed to have 2019-nCoV, they have experienced mild to severe respiratory illness and symptoms that have included:

  • Fever
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath 

Healthcare officials stress the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. “We want to reassure the public that at this time 2019-nCoV has not been found to be spreading in the United States,” said Kociolek. “However, we still encourage everyone to take preventive measures.”  

The CDC recommends:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water often. When soap and water is not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick.
  • Stay away from public places such as work, school and daycare when sick.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as phones, tables and door knobs.  

At this time there is not a vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV. Individuals who think they have been exposed to the virus should contact their healthcare provider. 

“If you have a respiratory illness and have traveled to China in the past two weeks, you should be seen by your healthcare provider,” said Kociolek. “However, it is important that you call your provider ahead of time to plan ahead and minimize risk of potentially spreading the virus to other people. Further, if you are planning travel to affected areas, consider avoiding non-essential travel.” CDC travel information can be found here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/china#travel-notices 

As a reminder, although there is not a 2019-nCoV vaccine, we do have a vaccine to prevent and minimize severity of influenza infection. “While there is concern about 2019-nCoV, it is important to remember that so far this flu season in the US there have been more than 15 million infections and 8,000 deaths from influenza,” said Kociolek. “To put that into perspective, that is 15,000-times more flu infections and 200-times more deaths caused by the flu in the US than that caused by 2019-nCoV throughout the entire world. Those who have not yet been vaccinated this season should see their providers for a flu shot, which can prevent and/or minimize severity of influenza.” 

For more information on 2019-nCoV, visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Chicago Department of Public Health

Click here to listen to Dr. Larry Kociolek discuss the coronavirus on the "Bair Facts on Health" podcast.