BOSTON — State health officials are warning doctors in Massachusetts about the coronavirus as it continues to spread from China. The respiratory virus that causes pneumonia and surfaced last month in Wuhan, China is believed to have killed 17 people and infected hundreds of others.
The virus has since spread to South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and as of Tuesday, the United States where one case has been confirmed in Washington state. Officials in Wuhan have shut down the public transportation system and temporarily stopped outbound flights from the area. Passengers who are able to travel from that area to the US will only be allowed to enter the country through one of five airports that are now screening passengers for the virus: JFK International in New York, Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Wednesday afternoon, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health sent an alert to local doctors saying:
There are currently no cases anywhere near Boston but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more cases are likely to be discovered over the next few days. Doctors at Mass General Hospital say they’re prepared should it happen.
"Given how fast this is moving, I think all of us are concerned to start to figure out what really this outbreak is going to look like and what impact it’s going to have on patients and on the health care community,” said Paul Biddinger, M.D., Chair in Emergency Preparedness, Mass. General Hospital.
Biddinger says health officials worldwide are watching this closely. "We don’t know a lot about the disease, we don’t know how it is transmitted and we really don’t know ultimately how sick it makes people.”
Since Ebola’s comeback five years ago, MGH built two special rooms to treat patients with that virus. There are another 10 isolation rooms for airborne infections like coronavirus, and one in the emergency department for both.
“We use what’s called an airborne infection isolation room. It’s a special room with negative air pressure so that anything that’s contagious gets sucked up into an air filtering system,” said Biddinger.
Aside from the rooms, certain staff are specially trained for these scenarios. Much of it is putting on and taking off their gear. “It’s so important that staff know how to put on and take off the personal protection equipment, whatever it is,” he said.
The World Health Organization met Wednesday in Switzerland to discuss the virus and tabled whether to declare this outbreak a global health emergency.
According to world health officials, common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
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