The Georgia Department of Public Health said it has identified Georgia residents to monitor for 2019-nCoV, otherwise known as coronavirus, but experts said cause for concern of an outbreak in metro Atlanta is low.
Nancy Nydam, Director of Communications with the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the department is taking measures to prevent the spread of the disease by rapidly identifying it and isolating sick people to keep others from becoming ill.
Chad Wasdin, Communications and Marketing Director with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Department, said the state health department is notifying Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Department of the travel history for individuals arriving from China within the health district. The Health Department contacts the individuals to educate about social distancing and to instruct them to self-monitor for symptoms of respiratory illness.
“If these individuals develop symptoms, they are asked to contact 1-866-PUB-HLTH, where public health staff are available to determine if additional testing is needed and to safely link them to a healthcare provider,” Wasdin wrote in an email.
Wasdin did not pinpoint a precise number of cases in the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale area.
“The numbers are changing constantly with individuals completing 14 days of monitoring and others just beginning self-monitoring due to recent travel history, so it would be imprudent on our part to share a number that’s current only for a short time,” Wasdin said.
Valerie E. Cadet, an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at PCOM Georgia in Suwanee, said there is little most metro-Atlanta residents to worry about, though healthcare workers are likely the highest risk to encounter someone with respiratory symptoms.
“Although the spread of this virus is concerning, we shouldn’t panic,” Cadet said. “Most of us are not in contact with someone from the affected regions, nor are we traveling to any affected regions ourselves. No community spread is occurring within the United States and the CDC is aggressively working to prevent the spread.”
On Friday, U.S. officials have confirmed 34 cases of novel coronavirus in the country, according to an announcement by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These include 21 cases among repatriated individuals, as well as 13 U.S. cases.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that has a wide range of severity. Some cases manifested with mild symptoms, while others were fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes at this time that symptoms of coronavirus may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.
The outbreak of the respiratory illness first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. The situation in the province is dyer and cases have been identified in a growing number of other nations overseas and in the United States. The first infection with 2019-nCoV in the United States was reported on Jan. 21
Facts about the disease
Cadet earned her PhD in infectious diseases studying the basic virology and immunology of orthopoxviruses.
Cadet said early identified patients in Wuhan, China, all had some link to a particular seafood and live animal market, suggesting that is where the infection originated. Patients later reported no exposure to seafood or the particular animal market, indicating that person-to-person spread is occurring.
As with most respiratory viruses, Cadet said the disease is most commonly spread by respiratory droplets produced by sneezes and coughs spread the virus through airways.
“With most respiratory viruses, people are the most contagious when they have the most symptoms, however, there are reports of spread from someone showing no symptoms to a close contact,” Cadet said.
Cadet said the virus is difficult to contain because it is new to humans, meaning we don’t have pre-existing immunity for it and no vaccines.
Reported symptoms in people confirmed to be infected with 2019-nCoV range from none (asymptomatic) to typical (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to severe (atypical pneumonia characterized by fever, cough, difficulty breathing and in severe cases, a patient may develop organ failure and die).
First, Cadet said, the virus is not more contagious or spreading faster than other respiratory pathogens.
“Measles, for example, is much more contagious,” Cadet said. “The major difference is that we have a vaccine for measles which stops its spread and we don’t have one for 2019-nCoV.”
Cadet said, while it is tragic when even one person loses their life to disease, mortality rates have been sensationalized.
“With the numbers of reported cases and deaths, we are looking at an approximate death rate of 2%,” she said. “Ebola, by contrast, has a case fatality rate of approximately 50%. Influenza has an annual death rate of 0.01%”
Not everyone, she said, coughing or has a fever is infected with coronavirus. Cadet said it’s still the thick of flu season and other respiratory pathogens are circulating
“Most of us haven’t traveled to Wuhan, China, or been around people who have,” Cadet said.
Finally, people cannot get this virus from eating food.
“Enough said,” Cadet said.