What is the Wuhan Coronavirus and should I be worried?

A new respiratory virus called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is making headlines for causing an outbreak of respiratory illness throughout the world. The outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and quickly spread to 19 countries as of January 29, 2020 – including the United States. Thousands of people have become sick and public health officials are keeping a close watch on how the virus is spreading.

Intermountain is also watching the situation. Out of an abundance of caution we’re prepared to support our communities should the situation worsen and we’ll continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.

Here’s what you need to know about the "Wuhan Coronavirus":

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are actually common throughout the world and can cause respiratory illness in people and animals. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe illness — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus. 

What's different about the "Wuhan Coronavirus"?

While coronaviruses are common, the “Wuhan Coronavirus,” as it’s been called in news reports, is a new strain of coronavirus that had previously not been identified in humans. The key features of 2019-nCoV are respiratory symptoms with a fever and cough. Like all new infections, understanding 2019-nCoV is important and changes rapidly. The CDC is proactively monitoring the virus and taking measures like providing guidance for health care workers and issuing travel recommendations.

How are coronaviruses spread?

An investigation of the 2019-nCoV is still ongoing but other human coronaviruses are spread through person-to-person contact. Similar to cold and flu, a person becomes sick through close contact with an infected person. The virus is spread through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person through coughing and sneezing or by touching surfaces with the virus on them. 

What are the signs and symptoms of coronaviruses?

In confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV infections, symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath and the severity has ranged from mild to people being severely ill. Currently, if you haven’t traveled to China or been in close contact with someone known to have the virus, your risk is very low.

In other coronaviruses, common signs of infection include:

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell

How can I protect myself from coronaviruses?

The best way to protect yourself from contracting coronaviruses is by using the same daily habits that help prevent the spread of many viruses, including the common cold and the flu. To help prevent the spread of disease always:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Wash with soap and warm water for 15 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you’re sick (and keep sick children home from school).
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What do I do if I'm sick and think I've been exposed to the "Wuhan coronavirus"?

It’s important to remember if you haven’t traveled to China or been in close contact with someone known to have the virus, your risk of contracting 2019-nCoV is very low. However, the CDC recommends if you’ve traveled to China within the last 14 days or were in close contact with someone confirmed to have the infection and begin to feel sick with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, seek medical care. Before you go to the doctor, call ahead and let them know about your travel and symptoms to limit potential exposure to others and avoid spreading the virus.

Please wear a mask in our facilities and around other people if you have a fever, are coughing, sneezing, have a runny nose, or are having difficulty breathing. Please also consider using Intermountain's Connect Care service on your smartphone, tablet, or computer to connect with an Intermountain clinician and receive specific care recommendations.

Information about 2019-nCoV is rapidly changing. For the most up-to-date news and travel advisories, visit the Center for Disease Control’s website.