It seems like almost every year that reports of a new epidemic rattle the globe and incite mass hysteria; news of deadly viruses across the world becomes even more terrifying when cases crop up in one’s home country. In 2014, several Americans contracted Ebola abroad and brought the virus along with major panic back to the United States. In 2016, the Zika virus reached Florida, claiming lives and cancelling travel plans. In 2019, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) was identified in New England, with states such as Connecticut instituting warnings and curfews. Now, just one month into 2020, a novel coronavirus strain known as 2019-nCoV from Wuhan, China is infecting people worldwide, leading major airports in the United States to screen for the disease.
At this point, many have come to fear the term “coronavirus”, but what exactly is this new disease? The classification of coronavirus refers broadly to a group of viruses that commonly induce respiratory tract illnesses. While there are many strains known to infect animals, six versions of coronavirus have previously been found to afflict humans, and likely mutated from coronaviruses with animal origins. Coronavirus typically causes mild cold symptoms and accounts for about a quarter of common cold cases, while two rarer forms known as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV result in more dangerous conditions. Now, 2019-nCoV, more casually known as Wuhan coronavirus, has joined their ranks.
Wuhan coronavirus is believed to have originated in a seafood and animal market in the city of Wuhan. Although earlier cases of the disease were linked to the market, suggesting contraction directly from an animal source, more recent infections appear to be spreading between people in China. The timing of the outbreak around the Chinese holiday of Lunar New Year is especially unfortunate given the resulting increase in travel. Despite the surge in travel, the virus remains largely localized to China, with only a handful of reported cases in the United States. Thus far, no one has died in the U.S.
To limit the spread of the disease, the city has been quarantined and major airports in the United States have screened all passengers arriving from Wuhan. Now that direct flights from the city have halted, screening in United States airports has expanded to all passengers coming from China or who were in China at some point during their travels. These screens include temperature checks, a questionnaire and a search for symptoms. The lack of deadly cases in the United States and the extreme measures being taken to limit the spread of the disease should quell fears that coronavirus is an immediate threat to anyone in the United States at the present moment. If Americans avoid travel to China and practice good hygiene, as with typical flu prevention, there should be minimal worry of potentially developing the illness.
Too often, people’s first step is to panic at the thought of a contagion that could claim our lives. However, especially in this case, the logical first step is to ease anxiety by educating oneself on the facts from reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the CDC, “for the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low.” While there is still a slight chance of infection, the likelihood of falling ill for people outside of China is not high enough to warrant concern. The next time a health crisis evolves, make a point to educate yourself before succumbing to unnecessary fear.
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Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.