Published on January 24, 2020

Map of Coronavirus Outbreak

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Coronavirus: Q & A with Bharat Motwani, M.D.

The first cases of coronavirus were reported to the World Health Organization on December 31. By January 3, there were 44 cases in China. There are now more than 800 cases worldwide and more than 8,400 patients are being monitored. The outbreak has spread to Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United States.Bharat A. Motwani, MD

We talked with Bharat Motwani, M.D., infectious disease specialist, Genesis Health System, about coronaviruses and chance of spread to the region:

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are common human and animal pathogens.  In humans, they typically cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses like the common cold.  Sometimes they can also cause lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis especially in people with weak immune systems, infants, elderly and people with cardiopulmonary disease. 

How is it spread?

Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through coughing/ sneezing; close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, or by touching an object with virus on it, and then touching your mouth/nose/eyes.

It is a virus that has been around. How did it emerge again?

There are several types of human coronoviruses.  Most of the viruses of the coronavirus family only cause mild flu-like symptoms during infection.  However MERS CoV and SARS CoV can infect both upper and lower airways and cause severe respiratory illness and other complications in humans. Just like MERS CoV and SARS CoV , which emerged in  2012 and 2003 respectively, this virus isolated from people in Wuhan City, China is a new coronavirus that the world has not seen previously.

Should we be concerned about it in U.S.?

Currently most of the cases are in Wuhan City, China although some of the patients have been found in other countries.  In the U.S., we have 2 cases identified and a few possible cases under investigation.  At present, I would be cautious but not too concerned.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are on alert and are tracking the spread of the disease.

What are symptoms and the dangers?

Fever, cough and difficulty breathing. The virus can advance from being a mild illness to pneumonia. Older adults with other chronic conditions tend to develop the most severe symptoms.

What is the treatment?

There is no medicine to kill the coronavirus.  There is no vaccine.  Therefore, treatment is supportive like taking Tylenol for the fever, drinking lot of fluids, practicing good hand hygiene and cough hygiene, etc.

Should we avoid travel to China or anywhere else in Far East?

The CDC has issued a Level 3 warning as of today (1/24/2020) for the area, which means that non-essential travel should be avoided.

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