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The coronavirus outbreak is causing panic. Where have we seen this before? (Photo: CDC)

The coronavirus is advancing around the world and will likely touch every corner of the nation.(Photo: CDC)

Cases of the coronavirus have been limited in the United States so far, but before long it’s likely to reach every corner of the nation. Here’s what you need to know.

The virus, or COVID-19, as it’s scientifically known, was first detected in Wuhan City in China, and has now been identified in 37 countries, including the United States, according to The Mayo Clinic.

U.S. cases have been limited so far.

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California Rep. John Garamendi told CNN yesterday (Feb. 28) that the 15th confirmed U.S. coronavirus patient is in “serious condition.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta confirmed the first possible U.S. case was caused by “community spread.”

That means the patient didn’t travel anywhere known to have the virus and wasn’t exposed to anyone known to be infected. But it raises the possibility people can be carriers without showing symptoms.

“We’ll have to find out a bit more about where or how this person may have acquired the disease,” says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist.

“We do know that it can be spread from person to person and now we’re seeing the virus appear in many different countries around the world. We do expect that it will start to circulate in the U.S.

“We’re watching and waiting to see when this might happen, and cases like this may be some of the first clues to suggest that the virus has entered its way into the country.”

The CDC says that the potential public health threat posed by the virus is high, both globally, and across the nation.

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. The most common include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The severity of COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe, including death.

So far, more than 80 percent of cases are mild, but as with most viruses, those with chronic illnesses and the elderly are most vulnerable.

At least 2,800 people worldwide have died from complications related to the virus, the vast majority in mainland China. That’s out of more than 82,000 global cases. Infections have turned up on every continent except Antarctica.

In contrast, the swine flu pandemic, which swept the globe in 2009 and 2010, infected as many as 89 million people and an estimated 403,000 required hospitalization. As many as 18,300 deaths during that time were attributed to the flu.

Check out the video below and a Mayo Clinic fact sheet on the virus.

Backgrounder on the Coronavirus

Overview
Coronaviruses are part of a family of viruses that can cause such illnesses as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In 2019, a new virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused a disease outbreak in China. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). There isn’t much known about this new virus yet. Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are monitoring the situation and posting updates on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations for preventing and treating the illness.

Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

The severity of the new coronavirus symptoms can range from very mild to severe, even death. Although understanding of this disease continues to grow, most people with severe illness have been of an older age or had other significant existing medical conditions. This is similar to what is seen in people who have severe infections with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.

When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor right away if you have symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus and you’ve possibly been exposed to the virus. Tell your doctor if you’ve recently traveled internationally. Call your doctor ahead to tell him or her about your symptoms and recent travels and possible exposure before you go to your appointment.

Causes
It’s unclear exactly how contagious the new coronavirus is or how it spreads. It appears to be spreading from person to person among those in close contact. It may be spread by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. It’s not known if a person can catch the virus by touching a surface that an infected person has touched, and then putting his or her hand to the mouth.

Risk factors
Risk factors for infection with the new coronavirus appear to include:

  • Recent travel from or residence in China
  • Close contact with someone who has the new coronavirus — such as when a family member or health care worker takes care of an infected person
  • People who are older or who have other existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, may be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the new coronavirus. But there is still much unknown about the virus, and the CDC and WHO continue to investigate.

Prevention
Although there is no vaccine available to prevent infection with the new coronavirus, you can take steps to reduce your risk of infection. WHO and CDC recommend following the standard precautions for avoiding respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if your hands aren’t clean.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you’re sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you often touch.
  • Stay home from work, school and public areas if you’re sick.

Other preventive steps:
Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or animal organs.
Avoid contact with live animals and surfaces they may have touched if you’re visiting live markets in areas that have recently had new coronavirus cases.

Travel
If you’re planning to travel internationally, first check travel advisories. You may also want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.

Source: Mayo Clinic