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Published on January 28, 2020

What you need to know about coronavirus

Coronavirus Safety

The coronavirus, a new respiratory disease likened to SARS and MERS, is a health emergency in China, but here on Cape Cod, you have a much greater chance of coming down with one of the more likely winter culprits, according to David Pombo, MD, medical director of infectious disease at Cape Cod Healthcare.

“Right now, if you are living on Cape Cod, your chances of dying from the flu are much higher than your chances of dying from the coronavirus,” said Dr. Pombo.

People living in Massachusetts are unlikely to acquire the coronavirus at this time, unless they have visited China within the last 30 days, he added. The five people in the United States who have the coronavirus recently visited the epicenter of the disease, Wuhan, China.

“People traveling to and from China need to take precautions,” he said. “There are now worldwide travel restrictions for people in China. People living on the Cape do not need to be concerned about getting the coronavirus at this time.”

Dr. Pombo is much more concerned about the flu, which is prevalent in this region currently.

“It is not too late to get your flu vaccine. About 35,000 Americans die from influenza each year, and most of them were unvaccinated,” he said.

The best way to keep from getting any virus is to follow good hand-washing practices, he said. Patients at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals who have respiratory illnesses are asked to wear masks to help prevent the spread of diseases.

While the outbreak in China has yet to be called an international public health emergency, it is in the news. Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus:

  1. The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China.
  2. At this time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed five cases of coronavirus in the U.S. None are in Massachusetts.
  3. Each of the five people in the U.S. infected with the coronavirus had recently visited Wuhan, China.
  4. Infections have been confirmed in the U.S., France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and Australia.
  5. On January 26, Chinese health authorities announced that the number of new cases doubled in just 24 hours. By 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 28, there were at least 4,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in China, according to the Washington Post.
  6. The head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, said on January 26, “The epidemic has entered a more serious and complex period,” adding that the rate of the epidemic is accelerating and will continue to do so.

Symptoms of the Coronavirus:

Coronavirus symptoms are cold-like, according to the CDC, and include the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

As with the flu and other viruses, the coronavirus can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.

How it is Spread

People who have the coronavirus are contagious even before they exhibit symptoms. Dr. Pombo explained that people are transmitting the coronavirus during the incubation period, which begins with exposure to the disease and lasts until symptoms develop.

“SARS and MERS were not supposed to be transmissible during the incubation period,” he said. “The coronavirus seems to be more transmissible, so it could be more widespread. That’s why the mortality rate is so important.”

Mortality Rates

On January 24, Lancet reported there was a 15 percent mortality rate, but these were early findings involving only the first 41 cases of the coronavirus, Dr. Pombo said. Next week’s report will offer a better overview of the virus’ mortality rate because it will be based on a greater number of patients.

The spread of the epidemic is not of as great a concern as the mortality associated with the disease. MERS was especially deadly, with about 30 percent of patients dying from the disease. Although it’s early, it doesn’t look like the coronavirus will have such high mortality rates, he said.

CDC action steps to help prevent spreading to people in your home and community.