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Are We Ready for a Public Health Emergency Like the Coronavirus?

Are We Ready for a Public Health Emergency Like the Coronavirus?

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By Samer Koutoubi, M.D., Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Public Health, American Military University

Patients infected by the coronavirus have been confirmed in several countries outside China, including South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Now, there are coronavirus cases in the United States.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first case of the novel coronavirus in the United States appeared earlier this month. A Washington State man who returned from the Wuhan region on January 15, 2020, was diagnosed with the disease.

As the second case of Wuhan coronavirus surfaced in Chicago in a patient who arrived from China, we all have to ask ourselves, “Are we ready for a major public health emergency?” Do public health officials and the CDC have a concrete plan to stop the coronavirus from spreading throughout the U.S.?

CDC Is Closely Monitoring the Coronavirus Outbreak

CNN notes that efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus have been hampered by a lack of data. According to CNN, “Advisers to the CDC say a lack of data from China about the Wuhan coronavirus is curtailing international efforts to quell the outbreak.”

The CDC is closely monitoring the coronavirus and responding to the threat by raising its travel alerts and conducting entry screening of passengers. The CDC also maintains a webpage that provides a situation summary and the latest information.

We all have to have confidence that public health officials in the U.S. are ready to detect, isolate and treat every case of coronavirus. It is equally important for the public to be educated on the protective measures to stop the outbreak from spreading. There are currently no vaccines available to protect you against human coronavirus infection.

What Are the Coronavirus Symptoms?

How do you determine if you have contracted the coronavirus? The CDC says that individuals with coronavirus may experience the following symptoms:

  • Respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from the Coronavirus

The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Wuhan, China. According to the CDC, the following measures can be taken if you must travel:

  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider.

In addition, the CDC says you should also avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

CDC Has Created Clinical Evaluation Guidelines

The CDC has developed key criteria to guide the clinical evaluation of patients. Patients should be evaluated and discussed with public health departments on a case-by-case basis if their clinical presentation or exposure history warrants further investigation.

The CDC notes, “Healthcare providers should immediately notify both infection control personnel at their healthcare facility and their local or state health department in the event of a PUI [patient under investigation] for 2019-nCoV. State health departments that have identified a PUI should immediately contact CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 770-488-7100 and complete a 2019-nCoV PUI case investigation form.” The form is available as a PDF or a Microsoft Word document.

Now Is the Time for Everyone to Be Diligent in Preventing the Spread of the Coronavirus

Public health officials should continue to work with the CDC, international partners such as the World Health Organization, and international government personnel to monitor the development of the coronavirus. Now is the time to be diligent in following our protocols for monitoring any new infectious disease cases and our standard policy of protection in hospitals and other areas, such as our nation’s borders.

The United States has the resources at hospitals, emergency rooms and outpatient clinics to protect people from this threat. Clinical personnel -- including physicians, nurses, and medical staff -- should be on high alert to recognize new infectious disease cases and be ready to follow defined infectious disease protocols and policies on short notice.

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About the Author 

Dr. Koutoubi earned his Ph.D. in Dietetics and Nutrition from Florida International University in 2001. He earned his M.D. degree in 1988 from Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Dr. Koutoubi's research focuses on coronary heart disease among tri-ethnic groups including African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. His interest is in disease prevention and wellness, epidemiological research, cardiovascular disease and nutrition, homocysteine metabolism, lipoprotein metabolism, and cultural food and health. 

Dr. Koutoubi has also authored a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and wrote a book review. He served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine and reviewed manuscripts for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Ethnicity and Disease Journal, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and The Journal of The National Medical Association. Dr. Koutoubi has also been quoted in national magazines and newspapers, including Natural Health Magazine, Energy Time, Well Being Journal, Northwest Prime Time, and Natural Food Merchandiser.