An outbreak of a novel coronavirus (also called 2019-nCoV) recently began in Wuhan, China. It is a new type of coronavirus not previously known to cause disease in humans. We are learning more about 2019-nCoV every day, and we are working diligently at Lurie Children’s and with the help from public health officials to minimize risks to our patients, families, and healthcare workers.
In general, 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.
Symptoms of those confirmed to have contracted 2019-nCoV include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. While most cases are relatively mild, some patients have had a severe respiratory illness. Fewer than 3% of patients have died because of 2019-nCoV.
According to the CDC, at this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably the virus is spreading between people. Viruses such as influenza or measles can be highly contagious while others are not. Most often, viruses spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
At this time, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both indicate there is no reason to be alarmed and there is very little risk to the general public. Please keep in mind that like most outbreaks early after they are identified, we continue to learn more and more each day. Because this is a rapidly evolving situation, for the latest updates visit CDC’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China.
If you have traveled to China within the past two weeks, then your risk for 2019-nCoV is higher than those without travel. Symptoms most commonly start within one week of travel, but possibly up to 10-14 days after travel. If you feel sick with respiratory illness symptoms including cough, fever or difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider immediately. You should contact your healthcare provider or local healthcare facility prior to visiting so that precautions can be taken to minimize risk of exposing others.
Currently, the general risk to those living in the US is very low. The full public health impact of 2019-nCoV worldwide is not yet completely understood. However, 2019-nCoV severity of illness and risk of dying seems less than other epidemics of new coronaviruses (SARS and MERS) over the past 20 years. As of late January, there have only been 5 cases in travelers (zero deaths) to the US and no cases in non-travelers. To put it into perspective so far this flu season in the US, there have been more than 15 million infections and 8,000 deaths from influenza. Because your risk of influenza and an influenza-related death is substantially higher than 2019-nCoV, 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 and protect against influenza-related deaths.
Currently, there is not a vaccine for 2019-nCoV. Healthcare officials stress the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Individuals should practice the following preventive measures:
The CDC is recommending avoiding non-essential travel to affected areas. Please refer to CDC’s travel health notices related to 2019-nCoV.
If you have had contact with someone who has been confirmed to have 2019-nCoV, you should contact your healthcare provider for further guidance. You should also report if you have the following symptoms: fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If you have symptoms, before visiting your healthcare provider, it is important to share that you have had contact with an individual confirmed to have 2019-nCoV and you are now experiencing symptoms. Your healthcare provider will be able to take the necessary steps to help prevent further spread of the virus prior to your visit.
Individuals who have been infected with 2019-nCoV will receive supportive care to help manage symptoms.