As public health officials work to contain the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has gripped China, people are taking measures to protect themselves against the expanding outbreak. While the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) continues to monitor the evolving situation, here are some things to consider:
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, while numerous other coronaviruses circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans as seen with Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV). There are several strains of coronaviruses that can infect humans throughout the year. These typical coronaviruses generally cause mild to moderate cold-like symptoms. When MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV appeared, these strains were known to cause more severe symptoms. Generally, when a human becomes infected with a virus, symptoms and severity can be dependent on individual health status as well as the strain of virus they have been infected with. Currently, the CDC is working to understand the transmissibility, severity, and other features that might be associated with this new 2019-nCoV strain.
The new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China on December 30, 2019. As of January 27, 2020, there have been over 2,700 reported cases and over 80 deaths related to the virus -- and these numbers continue to rise daily. There are currently 5 reported cases in the USA, all associated with recent travel to Hubei Province. There is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV infection.
Despite the 2019-nCoV impact in China, the CDC maintains that the immediate health risk to the general public in the Unites States is low. However, as this is a respiratory illness, and in North America we are in the middle of cold and influenza season, it is always good to share and follow these common sense yet highly effective general hygiene practices, as outlined by the CDC:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with an EPA registered disinfectant such as bleach wipes or sprays
Given the early stage of the outbreak, the CDC has issued a Level 3 travel warning, which recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to China. If you have employees that have recently travelled to China and may have been exposed to 2019-nCoV, encourage them to contact their healthcare provider immediately.
As the situation continues to evolve, it would also be prudent to dust off your company pandemic plan that details the policies, procedures and preventative measures to ensure employee safety and business continuity in the event of widespread illness.
Lastly, stay informed with up to date and credible information. Avoid drawing conclusions from social media images alone. You can track the latest information and guidance related to 2019-nCoV at the CDC website.
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