By Leon F. Vinci
Vinci is a retired environmental epidemiologist. He lives in Roanoke.
Currently, here in the greater Roanoke area, three public school districts have closed their schools to protect against absences caused by virus infections including the common cold and the flu. Nearby Covington City schools, along with those in Alleghany and Bath Counties, were closed and treated with disinfectants to stem the further spread of disease.
Another long-standing method of infectious disease control: patient isolation also is in effect, because students, staff, and teachers are at home, separated from others who may not yet be infected. Reducing person-to-person contact, thorough hand washing, and good hygiene are approved methods for reducing the spread of respiratory illness as noted by our local health departments, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control.
In light of the recent declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of a ‘global emergency’, the emergence of the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV poses an additional concern. With this infectious agent having already reached the shores of the United States, we are reminded of the severity of all viral illness. In fact, this year’s influenza season has already taken more than 8,200 American lives along with 140,000 hospitalizations as reported by the CDC.
Across the U.S., eleven confirmed cases of the coronavirus are being followed closely in the states of Washington, Massachusetts, and Arizona, each with one patient. Illinois has two infected persons, with one of the cases, having been infected by his spouse, affirming the first instance of person-to-person transmission here in the U.S. Additional persons are under observation throughout 36 states. Currently 165 patients under investigation (PUI) account for 92 pending lab tests, of which, 68 found negative, for the coronavirus and 11 positive. In our Commonwealth, Virginia lists several persons who are being watched as well. It is highly likely that additional U.S. cases will be found as evidenced in Illinois.
My message is clear: we need to take illness caused by a virus seriously, whether it is a simple cold or something more persistent.
Following the safeguards mentioned earlier, along with the proper attitude concerning the significance of these diseases, can keep us healthy throughout the next few months.