Yesterday began the Lunar New Year holiday, but much of China is celebrating in private instead of with its typical public festivities.  Despite quarantines, lock-downs of entire cities, strict travel advisories and screening at certain airports, a new virus called CORONA VIRUS has already claimed the lives of at least 42 persons in Wuhan, China, the site of the initial infection. This includes the doctor who treated the first case there in early Dec. 2019, and medical authorities fear that it will end up as fatal as SARS and MERS.

Many countries, from Thailand to Japan to the U.S. have already had their first diagnosed cases, and experts are gearing up for the need to treat thousands in the months to come.  China has even begun work on a new medical center just to treat the anticipated cases.

Human to human contact is the current mode of transmission for this latest corona virus, but its origin most likely was from snakes or bats in an open market in China where live or recently killed animals are sold.  This makes it akin to SARS and MERS, which were also initially transmitted from animals to humans.  Most of the cases involve coughing or sneezing by an infected person onto someone else, generally within a 3-6 foot distance. Infection can also occur via contaminated surfaces, although there is no answer as to how long the virus can live outside the body, such as on a doorknob or countertop.

One of the difficulties in diagnosing this particular virus is that it begins with the symptoms of a typical flu, with a cough, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches and fever.  These can escalate into viral pneumonia or bronchitis, at which point, hospitalization is required for medical support.      

There is no cure for this virus, and no vaccine either.  Your best defense is to keep yourself as healthy as possible, as your own body’s immune system is your number one ally, and monitor yourself for 14 days after you are in close contact with an infected person, as you may be contagious during that time, as well as ill yourself. Wearing a face mask may assist in keeping the virus from spreading.

If you have developed flu symptoms that are worsening and causing you concern, first call your doctor or hospital and describe your symptoms over the phone so that they can be prepared when you arrive and keep you separate from respiratory illness, washing your hands frequently and wearing a nose and mouth mask is an excellent precaution to protect fellow travelers or family members. If you are inclined to clean surfaces, a homemade cleaning agent can be made from diluting 1 tablespoon of bleach to one quart of water, or you can buy a household disinfectant with a EPA-approved label thereon.

If you have traveled out of the country lately or been in contact with a potential corona virus patient, let your doctor know as soon as possible so that they may monitor your well-being and prevent you from spreading it to others. If you are caring for an infected person, use a sealed N95 face mask to filter out 95% of the particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter, although the size of the corona virus particles is unknown at this point.

By Barbara Walsh