Health Advisory: Coronavirus Update 1/21/2020

Update as of 1/21/2020

In the news recently, novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of pneumonia illness in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. This outbreak began in early December 2019 and continues to expand in scope and magnitude. Global surveillance is in the early stages and the CDC expect more cases to be confirmed in China and beyond its borders. Initially some patients were linked to the Wuhan South China Seafood City however, since closing the market on January 1, 2020, more cases have been identified suggesting that some person-to-person spread is occurring though it’s unclear how easily this virus is spreading between people.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV have been ruled out as the cause of the current outbreak.

While the spectrum of disease caused by this virus is not yet known, meaning some may have only mild symptoms, we know that this strain has the potential to cause severe disease and death, especially among the elderly and those people with underlying health problems or compromised immune systems.  Many characteristics of this novel coronavirus and how it may affect people are still unclear.

In response to this outbreak, Chinese officials have started exit screening for travelers leaving the city of Wuhan; many countries, including SFO and several other airports in the US, have implemented health screening of travelers arriving from the area.  At UHS, we routinely screen all students see in the medical units for recent travel and mask and follow other precautions for anyone with potentially infectious respiratory symptoms, no matter where they have been. 

This situation is evolving rapidly, and our website will be updated with significant development along with campus messaging when appropriate.  For now, we follow CDC and local public health department recommendations by advising you to:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Frequently, and certainly after sneezing or before/after touching your face or a sick person

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Avoid contact with others who are sick and do not travel while sick. 

  • Travelers to Wuhan should avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).  

  • Older travelers and those with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan or other affected areas with their healthcare provider.

In addition, we recommend that students call the UHS Nurse Advice Line and faculty/staff contact their healthcare provider immediately if they have respiratory symptoms with a fever and have been in Wuhan within the last 2 weeks.

For further information, see the dedicated CDC website.

Stay well!

Anna Harte MD

Medical Director, UHS