The coronavirus continues to headline international health news, but the risk to Iowans remains low at this time, according to state and local medical professionals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises everyone to take precautions against the coronavirus, although no confirmed cases of the potentially fatal illness have been documented in Iowa.
The overall risk to Iowans is low right now, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.
The CDC is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December. On Jan. 30, the outbreak was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the CDC.
This coronavirus’ newness to humans sets it apart from other similar viruses that exist, according to Erika Ernst, an associate pharmacy professor at the University of Iowa and a clinical planning specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Ernst said this outbreak is the first time a coronavirus has caused such an infection, and the cause of the virus is as yet unknown.
How easily the virus is spread remains unclear, although it appears to be spread person-to-person and mainly through bodily fluids such as coughing, Ernst said. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Older adults and people with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems have been most affected by the virus so far.
As of Wednesday, the coronavirus spread from China to 37 other countries and territories. It has affected more than 79,000 people worldwide, including 14 confirmed cases diagnosed in the United States, CDC data shows. Among those U.S. cases were two in Illinois and one in Wisconsin.
Almost 2,500 deaths have been associated with the illness worldwide, although no related deaths have been reported in the United States, according to the CDC.
Two Iowans tested negative for the virus. Thirty Iowans completed monitoring and received a clean bill of health, according to the IDPH.
At this time, the greater risk to Jackson and Clinton County residents is from influenza, according to medical professionals at Jackson County Regional Health Center. This is also the time of year many respiratory viruses circulate.
“It’s important to protect yourself from any of these viruses by covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently, and staying home from work when ill,” said Michele Cullen, Jackson County/Genesis VNA Community Health director. “It’s also not too late to get your flu vaccination.”
Ernst said “it’s certainly possible” the coronavirus could infect many more U.S. residents, but no mass outbreaks have been reported.
“It’s important for us to be vigilant,” she said, “but we don’t need to panic at this time.”
People who have traveled to China within the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing should immediately seek medical care. Before going to a healthcare office, they should call ahead and tell doctors about their symptoms.
The risk of contracting coronavirus is associated with travel to China, not to a specific group of people or ethnicity, hospital officials noted.
The CDC advises U.S. citizens not to travel to China unless absolutely necessary until after the outbreak is contained. The public also is advised to reconsider cruise ship voyages in Asia as a result of the outbreak. The CDC constantly updates the list of “nonessential” travel locations online.
The public should follow basic infection control precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, Ernst said.
• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when sick.
• Cover mouth with upper arm or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
People who feel ill or think they have been exposed to the coronavirus should stay home, Ernst advised. “Don’t go to a Hawkeye game with thousands of people, for Pete’s sake, or go to your health care provider. Call your provider first to find out what you should do.”
“It’s a very rapidly changing situation, so just make sure to stay informed,” Ernst said.
For more information, visit the IDPH coronavirus webpage and follow the department on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IowaDepartmentOfPublicHealth and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/IAPublicHealth.