For the last month or so the world has watched anxiously as news of a new virus emerged from Wuhan, China. The novel Corona Virus or COVID-19 has now been reported in a growing number of global locations including the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has assessed the public health threat as high (globally and in the U.S.); however, individual risk is dependent on exposure. Based on current outbreak data, the CDC predicts that COVID-19 will become a pandemic. Exposure risk is potentially higher for healthcare workers, some of whom have already been infected with some of those exposures resulting in death.
The origins of COVID-19 are still somewhat of a mystery. However, it is known that coronaviruses are common in many species of animals including cats, cattle, camels and bats. While it is somewhat rare, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then be spread by people as was the case with the MERS and SARS viruses. All three of these viruses have their origin in bats. The earliest patients in Wuhan reported connections to a large seafood and live animal market suggesting animal to human spread. Later cases had no such connection to the market or to possibly infected animals suggesting person to person spread had begun.
While COVID-19 is new virus and epidemiologists are still trying to understand precisely how it is spread, we can learn from how similar coronaviruses are spread. Currently, person-to-person transmission and transmission from infected surfaces are thought to be the primary means of the spread of the virus.
The CDC believes that people are the most contagious when they are the most ill and exhibiting symptoms such as fever and cough, although they also believe that it may be possible for an infected person to transmit the disease before they exhibit symptoms. COVID-19 appears to spread fairly easily and sustainably making pandemic levels of the virus more likely.
Public health threats from contagious diseases have been dealt with through quarantines from the earliest of times. The book of Leviticus has explicit instructions to prevent the spread of leprosy – priests could quarantine those believed to have the disease for seven days. Medieval plaques resulted in quarantines as well as edicts preventing people and goods from infected countries from entering the city.
Currently the CDC advises 14-day quarantines for people who believe that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Data on how the virus is spread is still emerging, but the CDC has issued some preliminary guidance on how healthcare workers should protect themselves.
Learn more from a HealthStream white paper, What Healthcare Professionals Need to Know About the Coronavirus, about the global healthcare threat posed by the coronavirus COVID-19. It includes references that will provide you with detailed information that you need should you suspect COVID-19 or must manage confirmed cases. HealthStream put together this basic high-level information as an initial primer for healthcare professionals who want to know more about the coronavirus threat. As with any emerging infection, make sure that you become familiar with the resources available on the CDC website. The CDC updates information there as they learn it, so checking in daily and setting up an email notification for updates is strongly recommended.
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this blog post was considered current at the time of its publishing, 03/09/20. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving disaster due to new findings, data, and availability of resources. Please refer to the CDC website for the latest detailed information when you need it.
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