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Ask the Expert: Coronavirus

UPDATE: This is a rapidly evolving situation. Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Idaho Public Health websites for the latest information.

Gritman’s chief medical officer discusses new virus

John BrownChief Medical Officer Dr. John Brown

As of Friday, Jan. 24, two cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States and dozens of additional potential cases are being monitored throughout the country. Since the virus was first identified on Dec. 31, it has killed at least 26 people in China and infected more than 900 worldwide. Dr. John Brown, Gritman Medical Center’s chief medical officer, took some time to answer a few questions and provide the latest updates on how Gritman is monitoring and responding to the situation.

Q: What is the coronavirus from China?

A: Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS. Coronaviruses usually infect animals but can sometimes evolve and spread to humans. Symptoms in humans include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which can progress to pneumonia.

Q: How is Gritman responding to the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China?

A: We are aware of developments with the virus and prepared to handle any suspected cases. Our staff is trained and drilled routinely on procedures to keep the public, our patients and our staff safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time, but as your local hospital, we are in close coordination with regional and state public health authorities to monitor the virus and respond quickly and as needed.

Q: How concerned should I be about the virus?

A: It is important to remember that while coronaviruses are concerning and even scary, the last time a similar virus broke out was SARS in 2002, and it is estimated that it was fatal to less than 800 people worldwide.

U.S. officials began screening passengers flying from China at major international airports over the weekend, and as of today, there have been only two confirmed cases domestically.

The most important thing to know is that if you have been to the infected regions of China or if you have been in close contact with someone who has been to those infected regions and you develop cold, flu or respiratory illness like symptoms, you should seek medical care.

Q: If I have symptoms and think I may have been exposed to the virus, what should I do?

A: You should seek medical attention, but in order for Gritman to provide the appropriate precautions and ensure public, patient and staff safety, we ask that you call the emergency department or our clinics before presenting yourself.

We also recommend wearing a mask if you have symptoms. Remember, masks do not protect you from being infected, but they help to prevent the spread of the virus from an infected person. Masks are available at each of our clinics and at the entrance to Gritman.

As always, if you are having a medical emergency, call 911.

Q: Where can I get the latest and most reliable information about the virus?
A: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html and idahopublichealth.com/

What you need to know about coronavirus:

  • The coronavirus is a virus and is not caused by bacteria. You cannot use antibiotics to treat coronavirus.
  • The virus is centered in the Wuhan region of China but has been spreading to other parts of the world, including a handful of cases in the United States.
  • Know the symptoms of coronavirus:
    • The symptoms are very similar to other common viral respiratory infections like a cold or flu—including fever, cough and runny nose.
  • If you have these symptoms AND traveled to the affected region of Wuhan, China OR you have been in close contact with someone who has, you should see a doctor for evaluation and treatment.
  • We are here to help if you think you might be at risk and need to be seen in one of our clinics or emergency department:
    • Please call first. Let us know that you suspect a possible coronavirus infection and describe your symptoms and your travel history—or close contact with someone who has a travel history. Click here for a list of our locations and contact information.
    • Wear a mask to the clinic. If you do not have a mask, our clinics and hospital always have masks at the entrance along with tissues and hand sanitizer. Masks can help to prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to uninfected people. Masks do not prevent contracting the virus.
    • Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. While washing is best, use a hand sanitizer when washing isn’t an option.
  • Our staff are trained and educated on how to handle infectious diseases and will take good care of you and your loved ones.
  • We work in close coordination with our regional and state public health officials who are monitoring and tracking the disease.
  • Please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html for the most up-to-date information.