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As Coronavirus Spreads, It’s a Waiting Game in Connecticut

February 04, 2020

Updated Feb. 12, 2020

More than two dozen nations have reported cases of coronavirus, but without a pattern of sustained community outbreaks the World Health Organization has not yet qualified it as a global outbreak known as a pandemic. Yet it remains a global health threat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Feb. 12 that it expects coronavirus to “take a foothold in the U.S.”

Here are the latest numbers:

  • So far, 45,204 cases have been confirmed worldwide (44,686 of them in China), with 1,118 deaths and 8,216, or 21 percent of those currently infected, in serious or critical condition.
  • It’s estimated that 4,847 patients, or 81 percent of cases with outcomes, have recovered.
  • Thirteen cases have been confirmed in the United States.
  • In China, where the outbreak began in Wuhan, 97 people died on Feb. 9. Yet the number of new infections beyond the epidemic’s central location of Hubei province has dropped for eight consecutive days.
  • Since the outbreak in December, the Wuhan coronavirus now killed more people than the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak that caused 774 deaths within eight months starting in November 2002.

“This novel coronavirus causes a respiratory illness manifested by fever, cough and difficulty breathing,” said Dr. Virginia Bieluch, the chief of infectious diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, at a Feb. 4 news conference at Hartford Hospital.

In Connecticut, where no coronavirus cases have been identified, health officials can only prepare, offer caution and wait. Hartford HealthCare has been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) to ensure the safety of patients, visitors and staff. All patients are asked about recent travel from China. Hospital staff are also prepared to practice infection-control protocols if they encounter a patient who may have been exposed to this new virus.

“This is an evolving situation with coronavirus and it needs to be monitored very carefully,” said Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer. “Hartford HealthCare has always been very prepared for these kinds of  situations. We’re here to support the community.”

Patrick Turek, director of emergency preparedness, said Hartford HealthCare has activated its emergency operations center and its members meet daily to monitor the situation. He said Hartford HealthCare has conducted 45 drills in the past year to prepare for events like this.

“We know how to do this – we have done this for all the other diseases that have emerged,” said Dr. Kenneth Robinson, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Hartford Hospital.

Here is what you need to know about the coronavirus:

What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

The respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province in central China, has been identified as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Scientists are still trying to determine its origins. Early reports pointed to a possible animal-to-person transmission, perhaps from a market that sold seafood and live animals. The Chinese government closed the market Jan. 1.

What is coronavirus?

It’s a large collection of viruses that can cause something as mild as the common cold but is better known in recent years for outbreaks of two far more serious diseases, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The 2003 SARS epidemic in China, believed to have started with small mammals, infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in 774 deaths. SARS symptoms resemble the flu, with fever, sore throat, breathing difficulties, body aches and diarrhea. About 10 percent of people with SARS have died. No SARS cases have been reported since 2004.

But MERS, a new coronavirus, emerged in Saudia Arabia in 2012 with symptoms similar to SARS. It has since spread to other countries, including the United States. This disease is characterized by fever, cough and shortness of breath. More than a third of patients with MERS have died, according to the World Health Organization.

How many cases of the Wuhan coronavirus have been reported in the U.S.?

Public health officials have reported 13 confirmed cases as of Feb. 12, only one in the Northeast — a Boston man in his 20s who recently returned from Wuhan.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms, according to the CDC, include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people have shown no symptoms. But the virus can cause serious illness and even death.

How is it diagnosed?

Blood tests and laboratory tests on respiratory specimens can identify coronaviruses. Initially, all samples in the U.S. were sent to the CDC for testing, but a Food and Drug Administration expedited approval now allows the use of state health labs.

Why is it called coronavirus?

Under an electron microscope, the virus looks like the sun’s corona — the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere.

How contagious is the Wuhan coronavirus?

It’s possible to get the coronavirus by coming in close contact with an infected person — defined by the CDC as about 6 feet or in the same room — for an extended period or direct contact with infectious secretions.

How can people avoid coronavirus?

Take the same precautions as you would during flu season. The best way to prevent the spread this new virus, said Dr. Bieluch, is to cover your cough, stay home when you’re sick and avoid being within six feet of others who might be sick.

More recommendations from the CDC:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • When using a hand sanitizer, make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Who is most vulnerable to the Wuhan coronavirus?

People with weaker immune systems, such as older adults and young children.

Where was the first reported case in the United States?

The CDC confirmed the first case Jan. 21 after a Washington state man in his 30s reported symptoms after returning from a trip to the Wuhan region. He returned Jan. 15, two days before passenger screening at three major U.S. airports.

Is there a vaccine that can prevent people from getting the coronavirus?

No, but officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease hope for a quick turnaround by drugmakers because Chinese scientists sequenced the virus’ genome — its hereditary information — so quickly.

Is the Wuhan coronavirus considered as severe as SARS and MERS?

No, at least not yet. About 2 percent of people with the Wuhan coronavirus have died (compared with 10 percent with SARs and 35 percent with MERS). Most of the people who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus were older (over 60), had other illnesses and were not hospitalized until the advanced stages of their illness.

How does coronavirus compare with the flu?

With up to 5 million cases, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths in the U.S. during the current season, according to the CDC, flu sounds like much more of a health risk. It’s the coronavirus’ uncertainty, and lack of a vaccine, that concerns public health officials. But the coronavirus death rate is up to 10 times higher, with no predictable beginning and end to the season, like flu.

Because of similarities in symptoms, travel screenings conducted at Hartford HealthCare facilities can help determine the difference between these viruses.

What are the current travel restrictions because of the coronavirus?

The CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China, though that does not include special administrative regions of Hong and Macau or the island of Taiwan.

Not feeling well? Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care centers are open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. To make an appointment, check wait times or to find other GoHealth locations, click here

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.