Editorial: Stay vigilant, and calm, about coronavirus
Amid concerns about the spread of a new potentially fatal virus, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is directing a set of large airports to conduct expanded screenings of travelers arriving from Wuhan, China.
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Amid concerns about the spread of a new potentially fatal virus, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is directing a set of large airports to conduct expanded screenings of travelers arriving from Wuhan, China. While not on that list as of yet, there is some reassurance knowing that Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is monitoring concerns tied to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
The Honolulu airport has in place a long-standing robust surveillance system tailored to assess and, if needed, quarantine any individual suspected of being ill with a contagion. That’s due to the surfacing of other coronaviruses — such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), first reported in 2012, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which emerged a decade earlier in southern China; along with other infectious illnesses, such as avian flu.
In any given daytime hour, an estimated 10,000 people are in Honolulu’s airport as passengers, employees or visitors — so high vigilance is necessary to safeguard public health. The system’s team approach boosts confidence that checks on travelers are working.
In assessing international travelers, the CDC, which has a presence at the airport, serves as the lead agency, working in tandem with facility operator, the state Department of Transportation and others on-site, including a paramedic and firefighters. Also, the state Department of Health is involved in surveillance efforts.
On Thursday the CDC posted a Level 3 travel warning (“avoid nonessential travel”) for Wuhan, and the U.S. State Department issued a China travel advisory urging travelers to “exercise increased caution.” Since diagnosed last month, the outbreak of the pneumonia-like virus has killed at least 17 people in China and infected roughly 650 people in various areas around the world. In the U.S., there’s been one confirmed case, in Washington state.
While officials gauge the chances of cases cropping up here as a low risk, the state Health Department is rightly advising physicians to be alert for patients who have traveled recently from affected areas, in part, because the incubation period for the virus appears to range from two days to two weeks. There is no vaccine.
DOH is also advising residents, especially travelers — except infants six months old and younger— to get a flu vaccination. The U.S. winter flu season has been underway for months now, according to CDC tracking, with Hawaii now seeing a minimal count of influenza cases while many mainland states have tallies in the moderate to high range.
In a Wednesday statement, Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said, “With current seasonal influenza activity, it is likely that there may be confusion as persons with influenza will exhibit similar signs and symptoms such as fever and cough.” Like influenza, the so-called Wuhan Coronoavirus can spread from person to person, and touch off potentially life-threatening respiratory illness.
The CDC estimates that since October there have been at least 13 million influenza illnesses, with upwards of 100,000 hospitalizations and at least 6,000 flu-related deaths. Children under age 5 (especially children under 2) and adults 65 and over are at the highest risk of developing severe complications.
Vaccination stands as the best defense against the flu. In addition to helping prevent illness, it decreases the risk of a severe bout. Among other sensible flu prevention strategies: covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands frequently.
Given the growing concerns about the Wuhan Coronavirus, which include expanding quarantine in China, Hawaii’s health officials and first responders must continue to closely monitor the outbreak; and residents should take steps to shield against seasonal illness.