Coronavirus and you: How to survive the bugocalypse

Who was that masked man: Residents of Wuhan, China, take precautions against 2019-nCoV, which has now spread around the globe -- including the United States.
By ANTHONY SANTELLA //

The deadly coronavirus that originated 7,500 miles away in China may have found its way to Long Island, where health officials announced last week that a person who passed through Nassau County was being tested for the virus.

That individual has since tested negative – but results are still pending for more than 100 other cases across the United States

While the majority of the more than 2,700 global cases, including more than 80 deaths, have been in China and other parts of Asia, the virus has definitely spread to 10 countries, including the United States.

Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus, and how to minimize your risk.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, China, the capital of the Hubei Province and the largest city in Western China, with more than 11 million residents.

While 2019-nCoV is the newest of the coronaviruses, this family of viruses has actually been around since the mid-1960s. The other human coronaviruses that had public health impacts in the last two decades were the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Like MERS and SARS, 2019-nCoV is considered a zoonotic disease, as humans were first infected by animals (experts think bats may have passed 2019-nCoV onto snakes, which then passed it to humans).

Anthony Santella: Prevention, going viral.

Communication guidelines from the World Health Organization have made it easier for public health officials to communicate with countries and with the public during an outbreak like this. While China’s response was criticized for being slow during the early days of SARS, the country has since invested billions in infectious-disease facilities and reporting systems – and it reported 2019-nCoV to the WHO almost immediately.

Coronavirus is transmitted through the air and primarily infects the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Reported symptoms associated with 2019-nCoV have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and trouble breathing. It can also produce a lethal form of pneumonia.

There are no specific treatments for coronaviruses. Scientists are working on developing better screening tests and a vaccine. Thankfully, most people with common coronavirus illness will recover on their own.

Most local hospitals, including those in the Northwell Health system, issued coronavirus screening protocols for their facilities last week based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our nation’s lead public-health agency. And most hospitals have experience handling SARS, so they’re as prepared as they can be – interviewing patients coming from Wuhan, preparing wards for patient isolation, wearing the proper protective equipment.

For the rest of us, the precautions are the same as you’d take to limit the spread of any germs or viruses: cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, stay home if you experience flu-like symptoms, avoid close contact with the sick, wash your hands (a lot), see the doctor if symptoms worsen or persist and always practice good-health habits – drink plenty of water, eat a well-balanced diet, get sufficient sleep.

While 2019-nCoV may seem like a scary disease, the flu virus poses a much greater threat. Influenza kills more Americans each year than any other virus. As of last week, there were more than 13,400 confirmed flu cases and more than 1,750 flu-related hospitalizations in New York State.

If you haven’t gotten your annual flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Viruses are smart, but people are smarter!

Anthony Santella is an associate professor of public health at Hofstra University.