Coronavirus Outbreak Monitoring

The world and Penn Highlands Healthcare is monitoring the outbreak of a virus discovered in China called the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV for short.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan City, China, over the last few months. It has caught the media’s attention because it is a novel, or new, strain of coronavirus. The coronavirus, itself, is not new. We’ve known about it since the 1960s. The common cold is caused by one of the coronaviruses, and people from all around the world commonly get infected with types of coronaviruses. You may remember that in 2002-03, SARS-CoV, a type of coronavirus was in the news, and in 2012, MERS-CoV, also a coronavirus, was also receiving attention.

The symptoms of the coronavirus are fever, cough and shortness of breath. “Coronavirus infection symptoms start like any flu or common cold like illness,” according to Dr. Deepak Garg, the new Infectious Disease physician at Penn Highlands Healthcare.
But it is a little different. “Approximately 20 percent of infected patients progressed to critical illness and required hospitalization - which is more severe than the flu and common cold,” he said. “This virus also causes a life-threatening lung infection.”
“There is no effective treatment available for it, other than supportive care until the body clears the virus by itself. We are still trying to understand the real impact of this virus, but it appears to be deadlier than the flu and much more than common cold,” Garg added.

Like the flu or a cold, coronavirus is passed on by infected people sneezing or coughing and the germ travels through their respiratory droplets to other people.

Symptoms can appear 2-14 days after exposure to virus, and those who have been to China in the past two weeks and have symptoms should call their primary care provider.

Like the flu or a cold, people can take medications to help with symptoms. If symptoms become severe, then it could require care in a hospital. Those with other health issues are usually more at risk for serious complications.

Though it’s been all over the news and causing excitement, risk to the American public is believed to be very low, according the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. As of Monday there were 11 cases in the United States, and 82 suspected cases awaiting results. Another 167 cases were tested and were negative for the virus.

Currently, the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. Like the flu and colds, coronavirus can be avoided by practicing basic, good actions. They are:

Wash your hands! Use soap and water for 20 seconds before eating, after being out and about, after using any restroom, before touching your face. The list goes on and on. Use common sense and keep your hands clean. Hand sanitizer can be used if soap and water are not available, but old-fashioned washing is best.

And don’t undo your handwashing efforts. Be sure to turn off the water with a paper towel – and not your freshly cleaned hands. (Your dirty hands turned it on, remember?) Open doors with a paper towel, or, if possible, your foot. You can even use a part of your shirt or jacket. And always use a clean towel to dry your hands.

Clean and disinfect often-touched items regularly. Use disinfectants. At the store? Wipe the cart handles if wipes are offered.
If you are sick, stay home. Cover your mouth with tissues when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away.

Is Penn Highlands making changes to accommodate this virus? “We’ve already had our travel screening in place,” Sue Stiner, MSN, RN, CIC, Director, Infection Prevention & Control and Inpatient Dialysis at Penn Highlands DuBois, said. “We’ve been asking patients since the outbreak of SARS years ago if they have traveled outside of the country,” she said. This is one of the first things that help us identify if someone may have contracted something while traveling abroad. And we do this for most, if not all, points of contact throughout the PHH system – even when it seems unusual, such as Behavioral Health Services appointments or x-rays.

Though the area doesn’t have an international airport or seaport for an influx of visitors, “we recognize that having Interstate 80 and other routes could bring others to our area, too,” Stiner said. “We are ready and have precautions in place.”