When it comes to the novel coronavirus, Robert Bradshaw, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine at EVMS, says don’t panic yet.

Dr. Bradshaw, who also serves as Medical Director and Medical Review Officer for EVMS Occupational Health, says the Virginia Department of Health and local health officials are monitoring developments surrounding this new respiratory outbreak that was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December. As of Monday, Jan. 27, no cases had been confirmed in Virginia.

Like the common cold, common coronaviruses can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness, says Dr. Bradshaw, who appeared live on WAVY-TV Jan. 27 to address public questions about the virus. Public health officials are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it affects people. Some who have become ill with it have had mild symptoms. Others have had more severe illness, including some deaths. Symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing and can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.

Below, Dr. Bradshaw answers other questions about the virus.

How concerned should the public be about contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus?

As of Monday, Jan. 27, only five cases have been confirmed in the United StatesDozens more potential cases are still being investigated, but the majority tested for the virus so far have been negative.

UPDATE AS OF JAN. 30: Today, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. WHO defines this as an extraordinary event that constitutes a public health risk through the international spread of disease and one that potentially requires a coordinated international response. Previous emergencies have included Ebola, Zika and H1N1.

Who is most at risk?

The outbreak began in Wuhan China, Hubei province, in a seafood market that also sells other types of food. Persons most at risk are those who have traveled to Wuhan in the last 14 days or who have had contact with a confirmed case of the virus in that same timeframe.

How can people protect themselves and their families?

The Centers for Disease Control has recommended against travel to Hubei Province. Other than the usual respiratory-protection precautions such as good hand hygiene (including the use of alcohol-based hand antiseptics and hand washing), avoidance of persons who are sick with respiratory symptoms and fever is always appropriate. Remember that influenza-like illness is currently at a high level of activity and widespread in Virginia, and we are much more likely to be infected and contract serious illness from that disease. Getting an influenza vaccination and seeking prompt medical attention if you think you have the flu is most important.

What are the symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of this illness include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. 

Who is being tested for this and how?

The persons described above who are most at risk and who present with fever and symptoms are the ones considered persons under investigation. Clinicians will coordinate with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the CDC, and if they agree a patient meets the criteria for testing to confirm if this person is a case, VDH will arrange for the appropriate test and shipping to CDC for the specialized testing (a type of nucleic acid test call RrT-PCR).

What is being done in the local medical community to prepare for a case?

VDH and Infection Control personnel have communicated with the clinical communities in the hospital and outpatient clinics to be on alert for patients with fever and a travel history of concern to Hubei Province in China, and they have issued warnings against travel to this area. Individuals suspected to have novel coronavirus disease are to be given surgical masks and isolated if possible in negative pressure rooms until testing results become available. The CDC and state health departments are conducting screening at major U.S. airports that offer direct flights to Wuhan, checking temperatures and administering questionnaires.

To provide the latest local information and updates to Virginians, VDH has developed a novel coronavirus webpage. This webpage provides important information about the outbreak and offers resources for healthcare providers.