The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed six cases of the novel (new) coronavirus in the United States as of Friday, following the December outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, which has spread around the world. The CDC now reports that with outbreaks in Europe, a larger number of cases is likely expected soon in the United States.

“The person-to-person spread of the virus is of major concern, especially after the multiple reports of death in such a short amount of time,” said Shelly McDonald-Pinkett, MD, chief medical officer of Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“Although the number of cases here are small,” Dr. McDonald-Pinkett added, “health organizations are taking this virus seriously and are putting protocols in place to educate the public.”

Many people are worried about the virus, prompting cancellations in international travel, heavier screening at airports and a run on masks at pharmacies.

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses,” the CDC stated. “Some cause illness in people; numerous other coronaviruses circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats.”

“Chinese authorities report most patients in the Wuhan City outbreak have been epidemiologically linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak.” 

“The person-to-person spread of the virus is of major concern,” says Dr. Shelly McDonald-Pinkett, chief medical officer of Howard University Hospital. (Photo: Yanick Rice Lamb)

Symptoms & Safety

Below, Dr. McDonald-Pinkett provides additional information about the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and answers to some of your questions:

Q. How contagious is this virus?

A. At this time, the CDC states that not enough information is available regarding how easily the novel coronavirus is spreading from human to human. However, all precautions should be taken and the virus should be considered very contagious.  

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. The symptoms for the novel coronavirus are similar to other upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold. These can include a combination of high fever, sore throat, coughing and a shortness of breath.

Q. How does coronavirus compare to the common flu?

A. Humans have naturally built-up antibodies to the seasonal flu, and scientists have developed annual vaccines to fight the flu. One crucial difference during an outbreak with a new virus is that unlike flu, there is no developed vaccine in place. Because of a lack of information as well as no vaccine (see update below), it becomes very difficult to contain the spread of a new virus.

Q. How can I protect myself?

A. The precautions provided by the CDC for the novel coronavirus are very similar to precautions that are in place for other upper respiratory infections caused by all strains of coronaviruses. Prevention strategies should include:

  • Covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze.
  • Staying away from others who are coughing and sneezing.
  • Thoroughly washing your hands as much as possible with soap and water. Hand sanitizers may help, but they are not enough.

“I would also restrict activities where you are sharing items (food, drink, etc.) with others until more information is provided,” Dr. McDonald-Pinkett advised.   

UPDATE: February 25, 2020

Officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have announced that in six weeks they are starting tests on human coronavirus vaccine, but it is complex process. It is not clear how long it would take to reach the consumer market.

Check this link for updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.