Coronavirus In the News and Classroom

When a virus makes the news, everyone’s curious: How will this impact my family and me?

An outbreak of a new virus causing respiratory illness began recently in China and continues to expand, with a confirmed case in the U.S.  Called 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019 nCoV), the virus gets its name from its crown-like spikes.

In an effort to contain the virus where it originated, the Chinese city of Wuhan was recently quarantined and travel has been curtailed. As the story continues to develop, the U.S. has issued a travel advisory for China, and specifically Wuhan. 

Angelo DeLucia, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular virology and cancer biology, notes that our Northeast Ohio Medical University students will be learning about coronaviruses in the Infection and Immunity course that he teaches. Dr. DeLucia explains, “I teach the basic science of the coronavirus now making the news.”

“I taught about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus – two other strains of coronaviruses – when we feared them. Although the class is mainly basic clinical virology, I also talk about emerging viruses to make the lesson as current as possible. The students need a virologist who understands the history and is up to date on the current viral outbreaks.”

“In addition to the virology, I also bring into class the idea of the brave doctors, nurses, and virologists who confront the disease and try to lessen the fear factor associated with the abstract and unknown,” says Dr. DeLucia.

Identifying the virus

“Diagnosis of the coronavirus can be difficult,” says Dr. DeLucia. “For this virus group, physicians rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and specific laboratory results.” Currently, the CDC is performing the confirmatory tests for 2019-nCoV, which is called a novel virus because it is a new strain that has not previously been found in humans.

Monitoring symptoms

For those who may be talking with their family and friends about the outbreak, the general advice is the same as for concerns about the flu or any other illness: Be mindful of symptoms and seek medical attention if necessary, particularly if you have recently traveled to an affected region or been in close contact with someone who has.

According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of the  coronavirus 2019-CoV include respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, in addition to fever. Severe infection may lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome or other complications.

Protecting yourself

The World Health Organization recommends the following precautions to minimize your chances of contracting 2019-nCoV.

  • Regular handwashing with soap and water, if possible.
  • Covering your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze. This can be done easily by coughing or sneezing into your elbow rather than your hands if no tissues are available.
  • Minimizing or avoiding close contact with people exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

Travel to affected areas

The CDC recommends eliminating all non-essential travel to Wuhan, China and to exercise increased caution when traveling to affected areas.

In addition, it is recommended that NEOMED constituents who have an essential need to travel to China review the policy governing travel to CDC watch list areas.

NEOMED constituents who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, should be particularly mindful of the above symptoms and seek medical attention if warranted. Any presumptive or confirmatory diagnosis of 2019-nCoV should be confidentially reported to the Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Office (faculty, staff, volunteers) or to the senior executive director, Academic Affairs and Student Services (students) for tracking purposes.

In accordance with the University’s Exposure to Infectious Disease Policy, the person should remain home until such time as a licensed practitioner determines it is appropriate to return to campus.

 Please note that news of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has been rapidly-evolving, and further updates on the virus may become available following the publication of this article. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website for further details.

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