Thursday, January 30, 2020

A New Virus to Confront

Over the last two weeks, there has been much media attention focused on the coronavirus outbreak in China. There have been five confirmed cases in the United States and the virus has spread to 14 total countries around the world.

What are coronaviruses?
Let me give you the World Health Organization’s (WHO) answer to that question. Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans — this is what we’re dealing with in the current outbreak.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and humans. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from Arabian one-humped camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Scientists have already proven that this new coronavirus is spreading from human to human.

Common signs of infection include: respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death.

Respiratory viruses, like influenza, infect everyone, but those with healthy immune systems and without chronic illness generally recover without any long-term effects. The frail and elderly, along with those with chronic disease or weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of serious illness and death.

We are fortunate in the United States to have the world’s foremost public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Chinese government has shared the entire genetic makeup of this virus with the CDC and the strains identified from the five cases in the U.S. match the Chinese strain. Scientists are already working to create an immunization to block the spread of this disease. It is still unclear exactly how dangerous the virus is. There are more than 58 million people in Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak started. So far, there have been 170 deaths from the virus, all of which have occurred in China.

So, what should we do? We should follow the standard evidence-based respiratory illness precautions including regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs, and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

That being said, there is currently no cause for alarm. There have been no identified cases in Maryland or in the surrounding states. We will follow this situation closely and take our direction from the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health.

Let me take this opportunity to underline the importance of following scientific recommendations and not getting caught up in hysteria. As a society, we have made so much progress in public health that we often take our health for granted. Measles came close to being eliminated in our country until ‘vaccine hesitancy’ began with people who did not understand the facts.

All the cases of measles in the recent outbreak happened in those who had not been appropriately immunized. Some parents have delayed or not vaccinated their children because of misinformation spread via the internet and social media. And sadly, some elected officials and others who should know better have downplayed the importance of immunizations and have made pronouncements that don’t fit with the science. So, let’s give deference to expertise and support the experts at the CDC as they learn more about the coronavirus outbreak and roll out a plan to address it. For more information on the coronavirus I suggest you visit the CDC website here.

Congratulations Laurie Beyer!
I’d like to congratulate our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Laurie R. Beyer, BS, MBA, CPA, who was named by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of 20+ women hospital and health system “CFOs to Know” for the third year in a row. The annual list is curated from CFOs nationwide who lead financial departments at health systems and community hospitals. Way to go Laurie!

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