The new coronavirus, initially identified in China, has spread to 37 countries, including the United States. The virus isn't spreading within the U.S., but it is likely that additional cases will be identified in the coming days.

The virus is now called SARS-CoV-2, and the disease that causes it is called COVID-19. The most common symptoms are a fever, respiratory illness and shortness of breath.

Dr. David Priest

"Across Novant Health, we have standard protocols in place to ensure we are prepared to care for patients who may have come into contact with emerging infectious diseases," said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer. "This includes a patient travel history screening and a mask-wearing policy for certain presenting symptoms. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are working closely with national, state, and local health departments to protect our patients and team members.” 

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Priest said the public doesn’t need to take any special precautions. Rather, everyone should follow recommendations health experts regularly advise for prevention.

At this point, Americans have more to fear from the flu than the coronavirus, Priest said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that this may be the most severe flu season we've had in decades. “During flu season, we always want to make sure we’re washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough and not going to work or to school when we’re ill,” he said.

Everyone should keep these things in mind to stay germ-free:

  • Avoid touching doorknobs; Use your elbow or shoulder to push doors open.
  • If someone is sick, they should sleep alone to avoid spreading illness to loved ones.
  • Avoid shaking hands or other personal contact if you are ill or with anyone else who is ill.
  • Do not go to work or school if you have an illness like the flu. You should not return until your fever has been gone for 24 hours and you have stopped taking fever-reducing medication.

For comparison, the new coronavirus has affected about 80,000 people worldwide, while the CDC estimates that the flu has affected at least 29 million people and caused 16,000 deaths in the United States this season alone. Only about 2 percent of people who have contracted COVID-19 have died.

For updates on the 2019 novel coronavirus, go to this CDC website.

At Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists, we focus on preventing and treating communicable diseases present across the world and here at home.