Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you have probably heard about novel coronavirus, a serious and potentially deadly pneumonia-like respiratory virus that originated in China and is causing lots of concerns across the globe.
First of all, deep breaths.
The general consensus is that this is not something for us parents to be highly concerned about yet. The risk to the general American public is considered low right now, according to the CDC. Experts say that the potential for you or your child to contract a serious case of the flu is a much bigger concern than getting sick with novel coronavirus. (FYI: It’s not too late to get a flu shot!)
Still, if you are anything like me—and most parents out there, I suspect—just hearing the worlds “global pandemic” is enough to freak you out and keep you up at night worrying, no matter what assurances you are getting. In these situations, knowledge is power. And although we don’t know a ton about novel coronavirus yet and we certainly can’t predict how it might affect us or our kids in the future, there is a lot we do know, so it’s worth going over some facts.
What Is Novel Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses aren’t new. There have been several global epidemics involving coronaviruses over the past few years, including the MERS and SARS epidemics.
According to the CDC, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS and SARS.”
This current strain of coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in late December 2019 by Chinese health officials. It’s thought to have originated in an animal market in Wuhan, China.
Who Is Contracting It?
The novel coronavirus epidemic is a constantly evolving situation. As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus is about 9800, and the number of fatalities is about 200. So far, the United States has had six confirmed cases of the virus, and all of the fatalities have happened in China. For up-to-date statistics about coronavirus, you can check the CDC or WHO webpages specifically dedicated to the virus. The New York Times is also keeping a live, updated page on the virus.
What Are The Symptoms?
Symptoms of novel coronavirus vary from person to person. Some folks will only get mild respiratory symptoms, but some will get much more severe symptoms. This is especially true if you are very young, elderly, or have a weakened immune system.
The CDC says that the most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While coronaviruses like SARS and MERS were known to cause many deaths, experts believe that as of now, novel coronavirus may be a milder virus.
“It looks like most of the deaths so far have occurred in older adults, who had other coexisting health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells The New York Times. “But obviously, it still has the potential to make many people so sick that they end up in the hospital, not only in Southeast Asia, but with global travel, all over the world.”
How Easily Is It Transmitted?
So far, close person-to-person contact is how most people are contracting novel coronavirus. Basically, someone has to cough or sneeze near you or otherwise get their ick on or near you for you to get sick.
“We believe that the respiratory secretions from coronaviruses can’t travel more than six feet,” Dr. H. Cody Meissner, of Tufts University School of Medicine, tells The New York Times.
Novel coronavirus is not nearly as contagious as measles, explains the CDC. And while the CDC is worried about the public health threat of coronavirus spreading, they don’t believe the risk to the general American public is high right now.
What Can I Do To Protect My Children?
OK, so the maybe we grown-ups can make sure not to cough on sneeze on each other, but kids have no freaking clue how to keep their germs to themselves. They are basically walking boogers. Still, says the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), there are things parents can do to help keep our kids safe from novel coronavirus, despite their snot-spewing tendencies.
Here are the AAP’s top tips:
– Wash your hands. 20 seconds is best. Hand washing is the way to go, but hand sanitizer works if you aren’t able to wash your hands.
– Stay away from sick children and keep your kids home if they are sick. Like, seriously, do this.
– Kids should cough and sneeze into their elbows, not their hands.
– Keep your home clean and disinfected, especially if anyone in your family is sick.
– The AAP recommends that you don’t travel to the infected areas of China at this time.
The Bottom Line
So it’s clear that coronavirus shouldn’t be a huge worry for us right now. But what if more cases pop up in America? What could happen next? While experts do warn that this may happen, and that we can expect to hear more scary news stories about novel coronavirus going forward (ughh), the lessons we have learned from other outbreaks will be applied and it’s unlikely that novel coronavirus will become an epidemic in America.
“We should not panic, even though we are dealing with a serious and novel pathogen,” Todd Ellerin, MD, writes in the Harvard Health blog. “Public health teams are assembling. Lessons learned from other serious viruses, such as SARS and MERS, will help.”
Fingers and toes crossed that that’s the case. Meanwhile, let’s all do our best to put things in perspective, breathe—and always, always wash your damn hands.