You may have heard about the emergence of a previously unidentified coronavirus in China, but what is it and how does Charlotte prepare?
The temporary name for the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is Novel Coronavirus, abbreviated 2019-nCoV. The virus is designated as “novel” because it is a totally new virus, previously unknown to scientists or healthcare workers. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that can infect both animals and humans. Some coronaviruses that have previously affected humans include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Similar to those coronaviruses, 2019-nCoV causes pneumonia-like symptoms, including fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. At this time, it is unclear how contagious the virus is, but health authorities have determined that it can be spread from one person to another through coughing and sneezing.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Confirmed 2019-nCoV Cases Globally. CDC.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/locations-confirmed-cases.html. Accessed on January 27, 2019.
As of January 27th, approximately 2,017 cases of 2019-nCoV have been confirmed globally, and 56 deaths have been reported. As of the date of this publication, there have been five positive cases in the United States and no positive cases in the state of North Carolina. Surveillance and prevention of the spread of Coronavirus, or any infectious agent for that matter, is dependent on the collaboration of national, state, and local health authorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified five airports in the US where a high number of travelers from China are expected. These airports are staffed with healthcare workers who screen every passenger coming from areas of interest, and if necessary, hold them for additional health screening. When a person is suspected to have Coronavirus by a healthcare professional, it is reported to the State Health Department and CDC. Specimens are collected from the patient and sent to the CDC for testing.
What About Charlotte?
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is not currently a CDC-designated screening airport, but Susan Long-Marin, Epidemiology Manager at Mecklenburg County Public Health says the health department always works closely with the airport to address any visibly ill travelers. Similarly, Mecklenburg EMS Agency (Medic) says paramedics are trained to follow universal precautions with all of their patients; universal precautions dictate that each patient is treated as though they have the virus to prevent the potential of spreading any illness to other patients or healthcare workers. Medic personnel notify local hospitals and the health department if they encounter travelers exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus at the airport.
Now, as always, individuals should diligently practice personal hygiene habits. These include washing hands regularly with soap and water, avoiding contact with people who are ill, staying home if you are ill, and covering your face with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Since this is an on-going investigation, what we know about 2019-nCoV is evolving every day. For the most up-to-date information, visit the CDC website. For information regarding North Carolina, check out the NC Department of Health and Human Services press release page.
The UNC Charlotte Office of Emergency Management is monitoring updates from the CDC to keep the University community apprised of the situation. A NinerNotice was issued on January 24th with information for students, faculty and staff about a possible case of coronas in Durham, NC. The person under investigation was later determined by the CDC and state epidemiologists to be negative for coronavirus.
The UNC Charlotte College of Computing and Informatics is holding a special seminar session on Friday, January 30th to answer the campus community's questions on the coronavirus.
Lester Oliva, Medic
Susan Long-Marin, Epidemiology Manager, Mecklenburg County Public Health