While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that five patients in the United States have been diagnosed with 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019 nCoV), there are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in Louisiana. The CDC says that all of these patients have traveled from China. Health officials in Louisiana and other states are taking preliminary steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The CDC believes the risk to the public at large remains low at this time and the Department continues to monitor all information on Novel Coronavirus and remains ready should there be a need to respond to an outbreak of this illness or any other contagious illness. We regularly review and test our statewide emergency response plans,” Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health said.
Healthcare providers have been alerted to be on the look-out for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to China. The Louisiana health alert also offer recommendations for the reporting, testing and specimen collection if they have a patient (known as a Patient Under Investigation, or PUI) with respiratory illness that recently traveled to Hubei Province, China.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and in line with guidance from the CDC, we have expanded our recommendation for providers and health care facilities to contact the Louisiana Department of Health to report any individual who has traveled to China in the last 14 days and shows signs of upper or lower respiratory tract infection. As a result, we do expect that the number of persons under investigation will increase, but that does not necessarily mean that the risk to the public is increasing. Rather, it means we are being proactive and taking every precaution.”
“We are learning more about this virus each day, but it currently presents a low risk to the American public,” Dr. Billioux emphasized. “The Louisiana Department of Health is taking appropriate measures to inform health care providers and establish a surveillance and response network ready to snap into action to diagnose, isolate and quarantine as appropriate should this illness come to Louisiana.”
Background on novel coronavirus
The CDC, as well as the Office of Public Health, has been proactively preparing for the introduction of this virus since it was first identified in China earlier this year. The CDC is closely monitoring an outbreak caused by a novel (new) coronavirus in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Chinese authorities first identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in more than 6,000* confirmed human infections in China and 15 other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
To date, there are 132 deaths attributed to the virus. Although there is a travel ban for all residents of Hubei Province, China, a number of countries, including the United States, are also actively screening incoming travelers who may still be traveling from China due to connecting flights or extended layovers.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people such as has been seen with recent outbreaks of MERS and SARS.
Many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China have reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread (possibly snakes). However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating that person-to-person spread is occurring.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus.
- The best prevention is to avoid exposure to the virus. Everyday preventive actions include:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.