Health officials warn against excess coronavirus worry

3 weeks 8 hours 30 minutes ago Tuesday, January 28 2020 Jan 28, 2020 Tuesday, January 28, 2020 4:13:00 PM CST January 28, 2020 in News
By: Caroline Dade, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - Amid the coronavirus outbreak in China, health officials in mid-Missouri warn against public panic. 

"If there is no chance you come across anybody who had symptoms and had traveled to China or you yourself had traveled to China, you have no worries or concerns to be worried about the coronavirus," Dr. Hariharan Regunath said Tuesday. 

Regunath is an infectious diseases physician with MU Health Care. 

There are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Missouri, though there is a confirmed case in Illinois, according to Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. 

"While we have no identified cases in Missouri, we will continue to be vigilant in our surveillance while tracking and monitoring national cases," Williams said in a news release Monday. 

Regunath said there is very little chance someone who has not recently been to Wuhan will get the disease. He said more common diseases, like the flu, are more likely to get you sick. 

Symptoms for both diseases include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. 

"As of now, absolutely no one would be able to differentiate between influenza or coronavirus," Regunath said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several different coronaviruses that can infect humans, and most only cause "mild respiratory disease." However, there have been two more serious outbreaks of coronaviruses in the past 20 years. Both SARS, which infected more than 8,000 people in the early 2000s, and MERS, which was first reported in 2012, are coronaviruses. 

The virus currently making people sick is a new strain. Since researchers first identified it in December 2019, Williams said it's too soon to know exactly how big of an impact the virus will have. 

However, he said data so far point to only a mildly contagious virus. He said for a highly contagious disease like measles, one person can infect an additional 15 people.

"For this virus, it appears on the data we have today that one person would probably infect about 2 to 3 other people," Williams said.

Tuesday afternoon, officials reported a possible case of coronavirus in Lawrence, KS. Williams urged caution before assuming this is a confirmed case. 

"In Raleigh, they called a national press conference and put out an advisory and the patient had a cold," Williams said. "They put her in the hospital at Duke for three days and it was the front page of the paper. She tested negative. She didn't even have coronavirus." 

He said it takes two days to get test results back from the CDC. 

On Tuesday, Bill Stackman, the MU Vice Provost for Student Affairs, sent a campus-wide email saying MU is freezing all university-sponsored travel to China. He said university policy bans student travel to countries under a Centers for Disease Control Level 3 travel health notice. 

This is the highest warning level from the CDC. Its website states people should "avoid all non-essential travel to this destination. The outbreak is of high risk to travelers and no precautions are available to protect against the identified increased risk." 

Williams said state officials are meeting daily to monitor national and global cases of the virus and are communicating regularly with local health departments, hospitals, major airports and universities across the state. 

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