As we all know, a new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, has erupted across the world. According to the World Health Organization, as of Feb 3, there are more than 17,000 diagnosed cases worldwide, most from China where 361 people have died from the virus since the outbreak erupted in the city of Wuhan. About 150 cases have been reported in two dozen other countries, including 11 confirmed cases in the United States. These include cases in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington. There are also 82 other potential U.S. cases that are awaiting specimen testing.
In some U.S. locations, patients are flooding doctors with concerns about potential exposure to the disease. But are these fears realistic? And should your practice be taking any precautions? How can you quickly share information with patients?
We’ve recently seen multiple questions like these, practices wondering what the virus means for them. We’ve rounded up some of those answers and provided links to additional sources as well.
How can I keep patients informed?
With the coronavirus taking up so much space in the news lately, it’s easy for things to be blown out of proportion in the eyes of patients. It is important to let patients know that there is no reason to panic. The coronavirus poses little risk to most Americans. In fact, they are MUCH more likely to die from the regular flu--which has already claimed 10,000 lives in the United States this season. If they didn’t travel to Wuhan, China or have contact with a person with suspected coronavirus, their chance of contracting it is extremely low.
One of your roles as a healthcare provider is to be a partner and educator to your patients. As you do so, you not only provide valuable information but also create a relationship of trust with them. Since it has received so much attention lately, the outbreak of the coronavirus is a great topic for your regular newsletter or patient email. You can share relevant information about the subject on social media and your website as well.
If you are in an area that HAS been hit with the virus or with larger than normal populations of those at potential risk (frequent business travelers or Chinese immigrants), you may want to keep patients updated via text message as well. This would be especially true if you have had confirmed cases at your facility. If you are a Solutionreach customer, you can read up on instructions for doing so by clicking here. You can also find information on creating a newsletter here.
Who is at risk for the coronavirus?
Many of the symptoms of the new coronavirus are similar to the flu and other ailments. According to the CDC, if you have a patient who has fever or signs and symptoms of lower respiratory illness such as cough or shortness of breath AND they have traveled to mainland China within the past 14 days or had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, they should be tested for the disease. You can find additional information about the criteria for testing patients from the CDC here.
What should I do if a patient has symptoms of 2019-nCoV?
As noted above, if you have a patient who has fever or signs and symptoms of lower respiratory illness such as cough or shortness of breath AND they have traveled to mainland China within the past 14 days or had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, you should assume they may potentially have the illness and act accordingly.
The patient should be asked to wear a surgical mask and directed to a separate area from other persons. If possible, the patient should be at least six feet away from others at all times. Evaluation should take place in a private room with the door closed, preferably an airborne infection isolation room, if available. Healthcare personnel should use standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and eye protection (goggles or face shield) before entering the room. You can read more about those recommendations here.
What should I say to patients who are looking for advice on avoiding the disease?
Prevention of 2019-nCoV is the same as with other respiratory infections. The best methods include:
- Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
- Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
- Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
- People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).
- Within healthcare facilities, enhance standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments.
How can I stay updated about the illness?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide situational updates as they carefully monitor the disease. You can also get daily reports from WHO here.