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WHO Declares the Coronavirus an International Health Concern—Here’s What You Need to Know Right Now

Kara Jillian Brown

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There are currently six confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. Five of them recently traveled to Wuhan, the city in central China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, and one of them transmitted it to her husband.  And while the outbreak is rapidly spreading within China and to other countries, the CDC says the risk to Americans is very low.

“We are fortunate in that the virus did not originate here, or get imported here, before it was determined how it was occurring,” says Arnold S. Monto, MD, professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan. “We can institute control measures which the people in China, where it originated, were unable to put into effect early enough to prevent spread.”

WHO (the World Health Organization) declared on Thursday the novel coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. WHO’s focus is to help prepare countries with less advanced health care systems. Nearly 10,000 people around the world have contracted the virus, mostly in China. (China also reports that more than 200 people have died.) Symptoms can include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Dr. Monto has served as an adviser for WHO, consulted with the U.S. Department of Defense on communicable diseases, and visited Beijing during the SARS outbreak in 2003. He adds that SARS, which is also a coronavirus, was controlled not with a vaccine, not with an antiviral, but with public health measures. And it was totally eliminated.

He adds that SARS, which is also a coronavirus, was controlled not with a vaccine, not with an antiviral, but with public health measures. And it was totally eliminated.

“That was something we did not really predict, and suggests that the virus was not well-adapted to humans, coming from animals,” he says. “And we would hope that the same situation applies here.”

Leana Wen, MD, a visiting professor of health policy and management George Washington University, says the most important things Americans can to do protect themselves is heed travel warnings, and avoid non-essential travel to China. Dr. Wen, who is also the former president of Planned Parenthood, says that while global concern around coronavirus is necessary, Americans should focus their attentions closer to home.

“Americans need to keep in mind that there is a virus right here in our country, that will sicken and kill,” she says. That virus is influenza, which causes the flu.

The CDC estimates that this flu season, more than 15 million people have gotten the flu. It has lead to over 140,000 hospitalizations and between 8,200 and 20,000 deaths. Dr. Wen says it’s not too late to  get the flu vaccine, and urges people to so.

To prevent the spread of any virus that is spread person-to-person, Dr. Wen recommends washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water, cleaning communal surfaces, avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes, staying  home when you’re sick, and avoiding those who are sick.

Sorry to break it to you, but sweating out a cold isn’t a thing. But if you still want to workout, here’s how to tell if you’re too sick.

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