Wuhan coronavirus: Macomb County expert explains

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Since it was first announced that passengers aboard certain international flights would be screened for a new contagious illness, questions continue to be raised about the Wuhan coronavirus.

Responsible for dozens of deaths overseas and with several cases diagnosed stateside, the Wuhan coronavirus has countless people spooked and reminded of other viral outbreaks, especially recent coronaviruses SARS and MERS.

Many still question how it came about, what makes it different, how bad can it get, and what is being done about it.

McLaren Macomb infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Ognjan answers those questions and others to help explain what this coronavirus is (and what coronaviruses are in general) and how it will be contained.

What is a coronavirus?

“You have to start back as to what is the common cold. The common cold is caused by viruses, and there are many different types, including the rhinoviruses and the coronaviruses. The rhinovirus is very common — there are literally hundreds of them.

“The coronaviruses are unique. They are basically found in animals. Human beings come into contact with this virus by being in close proximity to these animals. This is essentially what is happening in China (the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated) right now.”

How did the outbreak start?

“What we know about viruses is that they have a chance to mutate — what we call ‘recombinant.’ They mix each other’s DNA together and come up with new viruses. And every once in a while these new viruses arise. You may remember SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).”

How bad is the Wuhan coronavirus?

“We don’t know for sure. It appears to be in the middle of the road (in terms of severity and mortality) — we’re still trying to investigate this. How contagious is this? That’s another factor that we’re not sure of now. The Chinese are trying to get all of their epidemiological data together so they can study it.”

Who is at risk?

“Clearly this virus can affect people. If you look at the people who have died from this, they are the older people and infirm people with chronic illnesses and other people who are in relatively ill health.”

Is there reason to worry?

 “What I’d like to say is that we are working on it. We’re still working to figure out how contagious it is and what a risk it is. Clearly it has spread to other areas — we have our first cases in the United States. Other cases will show up, but we do have a way to test for this virus.

“I would not worry about it right now in America. If it turns out to be a serious issue, we will take care of people. They do have a vaccine — this is an easy virus to make a vaccine against. If they need to, they can have an emergent stock pile available.

“But we can relax. We have some really good people around the world working on this — the CDC, the World Health Organization, each individual country, and I can guarantee you that the people in the Michigan Department of Health and Macomb County Health Department are on top of this.

“We have a very good crew of people who are going to help us and keep us safe.”

Symptoms of Wuhan coronavirus

  • Mild to severe respiratory distress
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath


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