The World Health Organization (WHO) on Jan. 30, 2020, declared a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019-nCoV (coronavirus).

The Director of WHO expressed concern over the damage the virus could cause if it were to spread to a country with a weak health system. On Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 travel advisory for China: do not travel to China due to coronavirus. The United States has been preparing for an outbreak.

While the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, it’s important to understand why WHO and your local public health officials are concerned. The 1918 flu pandemic (before vaccine) killed at least 50 million people worldwide, including an estimated 675,000 Americans. While the numbers of flu-related illnesses/deaths have decreased markedly since that flu pandemic, viruses such as influenza and coronavirus still impose a significant medical threat.

A more globally connected world provides all viruses the means to spread quickly and affect large numbers of people. Due to no vaccine being available for the coronavirus, an epidemic could be deadly to the very young and the elderly who may already have other health conditions.

As of Feb. 1, 2020, a total of eight confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in five states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) had reported the monitoring of two possible cases of coronavirus in Butler County, Ohio.

Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Amy Acton, announced on Sunday evening that both of those cases tested negative. Currently, there are no reported active cases of the coronavirus in Ohio and our state remains at a very low risk. Only one case of person to person spread has been confirmed in the US. The spread of the virus from was from sustained contact between spouses.

While the threat for the coronavirus remains low at this time, everyone can do their part to help us respond to this emerging public health threat. The goal of the ongoing U.S. public health response is to contain this outbreak and prevent sustained spread of the coronavirus in this country.

The steps you take to prevent the spread of flu and the common cold will also help to prevent coronavirus as symptoms for coronavirus are similar to influenza (cough, fever, difficulty breathing and runny nose).

The CDC recommends getting vaccinated for the flu, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Most importantly, stay home if you are sick! You may be healthy enough to survive a respiratory illness, but those that you infect may not be.

For fact sheets and informational documents on the coronavirus virus www.odh.ohio.gov/coronavirus. For information on preventing the flu or to get vaccinated contact the Health Department at 740-342-5179.

The Perry County Health Department is working to keep you healthy where you live, work and play. For more information about any program or service offered by the Perry County Health Department, contact us at 342-5179, visit us online at www.perryhealth.com and follow us on Facebook!

Deborah Raney is a weekly contributor to The Perry County Tribune.

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