As you may have heard from local news reports, the coronavirus has made its way from mainland China into the U.S from infected travelers. The concerning news of advanced illnesses, deaths, and outbreaks in other parts of the world continue to raise caution within the states as well. However, patients need to take some time to learn the basic facts, avoid misinformation, and effectively determine if they are at risk for the virus. 

What is coronavirus exactly? 

Coronavirus is a type of virus that impacts a patient’s upper respiratory system. Public health officials and the Centers for disease control name the strain detected in Wuhan, China as “2019-nCoV.” According to the CDC, coronaviruses are “a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS, SARS, and now with 2019-nCoV.” 

The latest coronavirus is a respiratory illness that was linked to a large seafood and live animal market in an extremely rare animal-to-person spread across China. As more patients interacted with these markets and contained food sources, it led to a highly accelerated case of person-to-person infections in the country. 

As of February 6th, 2020, nearly 28,000 patients in China have the virus while 560 have died from the virus. However, the impact and spread of the coronavirus has not reached this magnitude anywhere else, including the United States. 

How did the coronavirus spread to the United States? 

CDC officials and public health organizations including the World Health Organization found that travelers from the U.S contracted the virus through airborne and person-to-person respiratory infection. Travelers then came back from China and infected areas to the United States, who were then found to have 2019-nCoV. 

The U.S Government issued the following updates once public health officials determine the cause and virality of the latest coronavirus strain: 

“On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC). On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to 2019-nCoV. Also on January 31, the President of the United States signed a presidential “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus“. These measures were announced at a press briefing by members of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force.” 

Currently, patients coming back to the United States are screened for the virus and appropriately quarantined. 

Am I at risk for the coronavirus? Is it spreading in the United States? 

The short answer is no: the coronavirus has only affected 11 people with 232 cases under investigation. Those 11 individuals are also quarantined while the investigated cases are also isolated from public communities. 

As the CDC explains, “imported cases of 2019-nCoV infection in travelers have been detected in the U.S. Person-to-person spread of 2019-nCoV also has been seen among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan, but at this time, this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.” Additionally, the U.S government and health officials have implemented crisis action plans if the virus spreads outside of quarantine zones. 

It is crucial that you continue to follow updates from local healthcare organizations to understand the actual scope and severity of the virus, avoid misinformation, and ensure you know how to protect yourself.