Afraid of the New Virus in China?

The outbreak of the new virus in China is a source of fear and fear-mongering. Some news sources are reliable, others are out to be as sensational and attention-grabbing as they can. Those sources don’t care if they spread misinformation or fear through their word choices. The sensationalism has caused some to be afraid of the new virus. Are you afraid of the new virus in China? I hope to cut through some of that fear for you. I’m not an expert, but I have included many links to the experts. Read the experts. Inform yourself. Be aware. Be cautious. But don’t let fear become epidemic.

Afraid of the new virus in China--image of globe focused on China

Where Did It Come From

The illness began in Wuhan City, Hubei, China. Wuhan City is the capital of the Hubei province and an industrial and commercial hub for central China. At the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers, it is equidistant from the cities of Beijing and Guangzhou (Canton) (north-south) and from Shanghai and Chongqing (east-west). A major domestic and international transport hub, the city has a population of more than 11 million people. (Learn more about Wuhan City on Wikipedia or Britanica)

On January 11 and 12, Chinese authorities reported forty-one cases of the illness to WHO (World Health Organization). Seven of those people are seriously ill. WHO deployed a team of experts to the city to assist with local response. 

What Is It?

WHO  has identified the illness as a coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and some infect animals including bats, camels, cats, and birds. Most diseases are mild.

Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people such as has been seen with MERS and SARS.


 SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) occurred November 2002 and July 2003 in southern China and MERS  (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) occurred in 2012 in Saudi Arabia.

How Is It Spread?

Afraid of the new virus in China? image of cartoon character sneezing without covering his mouth

This virus is new enough that the exact route of transmission is unknown. Initially, only people who had been to a certain seafood and animal market came down with the illness. Chinese authorities contacted more than 700 individuals who had visited or purchased small game animals there. 

In general, coronaviruses are spread by the fecal-oral route or by aerosols of respiratory secretions. What this means is that good hand washing and good respiratory hygiene (covering your coughs and sneezes and immediate disposal of secretions) may help protect you from the virus.

On January 21, the first case of this virus appeared in the United States. A traveler from Washington state (north of Seattle) who had recently visited Wuhan City had no symptoms until days after his return. Aware of the outbreak in Wuhan City, he contacted his primary care provider early. He’s in the hospital but, at last report, is not severely ill. 

The gentleman in the U.S. is not the first individual to never have been to the market and developed the disease. And I’ve seen reports that China has confirmed 200-300 cases of the disease. This strongly suggests that the disease is also spread from person-to-person. They do not know how quickly it spreads.

What Are The Symptoms

The primary symptoms are respiratory—much like a common cold. {er WHO, many have had a fever, with a few cases having difficulty in breathing, and chest x-rays reveal invasive pneumonic infiltrates in both lungs.

If you have recently traveled to China (particularly to Wuhan City) and develop respiratory symptoms, contact your primary care provider sooner rather than later. If you know you’ve been exposed to the virus—contact your health care provider or your local public health department.

How Is it Diagnosed?

Respiratory secretions and blood tests can diagnose coronavirus. So far, there is no test specific to this new virus. Health care providers will ask about recent travel, exposures to ill persons, and what symptoms you have. Airports with flights arriving from central China are screening de-boarding passengers for travel history and checking their temperature.

The new virus in China is an evolving situation. Scientists hope they can modify diagnostic tests for SARS to help them identify this new virus. 

How Is It Treated?

It’s a virus. That means an antibiotic will not be effective against it.

Symptomatic treatments for cough, runny nose, and fever are the primary treatment. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, they’ll use antibiotics. 

Most likely, they will put patients in respiratory isolation as a precaution. Until they know more about the illness, this will mean hospitalization. Staff and visitors may need to wear masks, gowns, and gloves to help prevent the spread of the illness.

With a severe illness, they may need hospitalization and additional supportive measures.

There is no vaccine for this disease, but scientists are working on that.

What Is A Super-spreader?

Super-spreader is a new term to me. It’s a more modern version of what we used to call “Typhoid Mary.” There have been “super-spreaders” for many diseases (measles, tuberculosis, typhoid, SARS, etc.)

A super-spreader is a rare individual(s) who has an atypical reaction to the disease. They have no symptoms or they have different or milder symptoms. They do not realize that they have and are carrying the disease until after they’ve infected other people. Sometimes many more people. Scientists believe each SARS super-spreader infected 20-60 people.

At this time, there are no known super-spreaders for this virus. And the CDC has said that there is no reason for Americans to panic. 

How Can I Protect Myself and My Family?

Woman in a medical face mask
No need for masks in the U.S.

The best way to protect yourself is to use good hand washing and respiratory hygiene as mentioned above. As with all respiratory illnesses, the very young and the very old should avoid exposure. And persons who are immunocompromised, may need additional precautionary measures (contact your health care provider). If you have concerns about your particular health issues, contact your health care provider or your local public health department.

In Conclusion

I don’t blame you if you’re afraid of the new virus in China. It is scary when a new disease or illness appears out of nowhere and spreads so quickly. Stay informed. Be aware. If you develop cold symptoms and had contact with a traveler from Wuhan, talk to your primary care physician. Use good hand washing and respiratory hygiene. Most of all, don’t let sensational headlines send you into a panic.

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