A respiratory virus that has sickened hundreds and killed at least 17 people in China saw its first confirmed case in the United States this week, but a health official in Springfield said Thursday that the risk of transmission in central Illinois remains low.
“This is an ever-changing virus, and we’re learning more and more about it every day,” said Gina Carnduff, director of infection prevention for Memorial Health System, which has hospitals in Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville, Lincoln and Taylorville. “At this time, however, the risk is very low that someone from central Illinois would be infected with this virus.”
You’re at greater risk of getting the flu, which has caused between 6,600 and 17,000 deaths in the U.S. so far this season, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are seeing widespread flu activity across the region,” Carnduff said. “Flu viruses can travel up to six feet when someone coughs or sneezes. With the high flu activity currently occurring, you have a high possibility of being exposed to the flu virus. It’s not too late to get your flu shot and protect yourself.”
Regarding the new coronavirus, most of the people who have contracted it were in the city of Wuhan in a province in central China. The virus has since spread to other cities in China and the nations of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the U.S.
To catch the virus at this point, a person would have to have been in Wuhan or in contact with someone with a confirmed case, Carnduff said. Health officials confirmed Tuesday that the individual from the U.S., a man in his 30s from Washington state, contracted the virus when he traveled to the region where the outbreak occurred.
While the risk of catching the coronavirus remains low, Carnduff said people can still follow the same common-sense precautions to prevent the spread of illnesses such as the flu: Cover your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands frequently. And maintain your distance if you see someone actively coughing or sneezing.
The incubation period for the coronavirus is about 14 days, according to media reports. Many of the fatalities to date have been elderly people with other pre-existing conditions.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was recently added as another major airport where federal officials will screen passengers arriving from Wuhan for the infection. The other airports are in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
Carnduff said central Illinois residents who regularly fly into O’Hare don’t need to fear when they arrive. Any screened passengers suspected of carrying the virus will be quarantined, she said.
As part of the ever-changing nature of the virus, officials initially thought it was transmitted by animal-to-human contact. However, Carnduff said, “we just learned that there are cases of human-to-human transmission.”
The first confirmed case was reported on Dec. 31.
“We’re still learning about this virus,” Carnduff said. “At this stage, we have more questions than answers.”