If you think you might have the Wuhan coronavirus, call your doctor. Here's what they'll ask and what a hospital will do.
- If you think you have the Wuhan coronavirus, call your doctor or local public health department.
- The doctor will probably ask about where you recently traveled and with whom you came into contact.
- If the doctor determines you might have the coronavirus, they will probably arrange for special transport to a facility that's equipped with negative air-pressure rooms.
- Going to the hospital without calling ahead can expose more people to the virus.
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A quick call to your doctor could make a huge difference if you think you've been exposed to the new coronavirus that has infected 20,000 people worldwide.
Risk of infection in the US is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The country's only two cases of person-to-person transmission happened within families, after someone traveled to China and infected a spouse upon their return. In total, 11 US cases have been confirmed.
But if you do think you've been exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus, the CDC and healthcare professionals have clear advice: Make a phone call before you head to the hospital.
"Stay at home and call your doctor," Kim Leslie, an emergency-department nursing director at Swedish Hospital in Chicago, told Business Insider. "If there's no reason for you to seek emergency medical treatment, then stay at home and we will send you to the right place."
On the phone, tell your doctor about any recent travels and contact you could have had with someone who got the Wuhan coronavirus. The doctor may arrange safe transport to bring you to the hospital without exposing others to the virus.
"It does seem to be more communicable than our typical seasonal flu, and because of that it's important to try to minimize other people's exposure to somebody who may be infected with this novel coronavirus," Richard Martinello, an associate professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider.
While you're at home, the CDC has a few other recommendations if you think you have the virus:
- Separate yourself from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom if possible.
- Wear a face mask.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid sharing personal items like dishware, towels, or bedding.
Call your doctor to determine whether you should visit a hospital
When you call a doctor, the first thing they'll want to know is where you've been and what your symptoms are. That basic information will help them determine whether you are actually at risk of the new coronavirus.
Patients have reported symptoms similar to those associated with pneumonia, such as fever, coughing, chills, headache, difficulty breathing, and a sore throat.
The virus can be transmitted between people through respiratory droplets such as saliva or mucus. It may be passed before a person shows symptoms.
If you have some of these symptoms and think you may have been exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus, your doctor will likely order a test for the virus. They will also ask about the severity of your symptoms to determine whether you should visit the hospital.
"We're really using the same criteria that we would typically use day-to-day for persons with the flu or with other infections to determine whether or not they need to be hospitalized," Martinello said.
For people in the US, the seasonal flu poses a much higher risk than the new coronavirus. Leslie said that her emergency department has been especially crowded lately because the flu is "on the rise."
At least 19 million Americans contracted the flu in the last four months and 10,000 have died since October. The peak of flu season comes between December and February.
Patients who recently traveled to China get an isolation room
Last week, Leslie said, a man came into the emergency department at Swedish Hospital saying he was sick and had recently visited China.
The staff gave the man a face mask and ushered him into a "negative airflow" chamber that does not allow air to escape the room.
Many private doctor's offices do not have these negative-airflow rooms, however, so potential coronavirus patients would probably get a room in the back, as far as possible from other patients. That's what Martinello said his office did with one patient. The man's condition wasn't serious enough to be hospitalized, so the staff sent him home with a warning to stay in the house and wait for his test results. The test came back negative.
When treating the Chicago patient in the negative-airflow chamber, medical workers wore protective gear, including gloves, gowns, eye protection like goggles or a face shield, and an N95 respirator mask to protect them from virus-carrying droplets.
Infection-control experts asked that patient more personal questions, Leslie said. Epidemiologists typically inquire about whether a potential coronavirus patient recently had sex with anyone (especially while traveling), which specific locations they visited, who they had contact with, and what they did in each place they went.
"After that scrutiny, [he] did not meet the criteria to be concerned. So we lessened his level of isolation, out of that room, and considered him just your basic average flu," Leslie said.
Even if a patient is confirmed to have the coronavirus, there is no specific medication for it. So, much like the flu, doctors simply treat patients' symptoms, ensure they get enough oxygen, and keep them hydrated.
Officials are monitoring for more instances of person-to-person transmission in the US, but Martinello thinks the country's risk is falling.
"Right now with how travel to and from China has been significantly restricted, I'm expecting that over the next week or two we're really going to have fewer and fewer people who have recently come from China and been exposed to this coronavirus," he said.
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