Local experts on alert for coronavirus, no panic yet

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – As a new strain of coronavirus lands in the U.S. from China, local healthcare professionals say they’re monitoring the mysterious virus and its path across the globe.

The strain of virus, first documented in China about a month ago, hasn’t been found in humans before, according to infection prevention expert Jamie Swift.

READ MORE: WHO says China virus not global health emergency

The coronavirus can cause illnesses from the common cold to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

Swift said the concern with this strain is that there isn’t much known about it since it’s never been found in humans before.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns,” she said. “We really don’t know how easily it’s going to spread person-to-person.

“If it’s an easily transmitted person-to-person, it’s a new virus, and no one has immunity because no one’s ever had it.”

Previous story: CDC adds health entry screenings at Atlanta airport due to coronavirus

The spread of the virus triggered a quarantine of three Chinese cities and travel screenings at international airports. At least 17 people have died from the illness.

“In the cases so far in China, it seems to be especially hard on the elderly, so those who already may have a weakened immune system,” Swift said.

Previously reported: Science Says: What to know about the viral outbreak in China

Swift said there’s no reason for panic yet – not enough is known about the virus to know how easily it can be transmitted person-to-person.

She said it’s important for those who have traveled abroad to keep an eye out for symptoms, which mimic those of pneumonia – a cough, fever and body aches.

More here: As virus spreads, anxiety rises in China and overseas

“If you come into a facility, you know, for a long time, we’ve been asking travel questions at registration, so we always ask, ‘Have you traveled outside of the country in the past three months?'” Swift said.

“This is the prime example of why we ask that question – every patient, every registration. That immediately tells us, if you could be at risk and that we need to get you isolated away from the general waiting room.”

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