Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Should Know

Published on 
February 11, 2020
2019 Novel Coronavirus: What You Should Know


News of an outbreak of a novel (or new) coronavirus (COVID-19) in the city of Wuhan, China, has people throughout the world on edge, including many families in California, as the virus has started to appear in countries outside China. There have been no known cases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

We asked our experts for facts that can help answer the most essential questions that parents will have.

Below you’ll find information about this new virus, what is being done to prevent its further spread, and how you can protect yourself from the threat of infection.

What are coronaviruses? Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can infect both animals and humans, causing respiratory ailments as mild as the common cold and as severe as pneumonia. Rarely, animal coronaviruses infect humans and then spread among them. You may recall the 2002-03 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was an example of a coronavirus that jumped from animals to people. Another prominent, more recent coronavirus strain called MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) emerged in the Middle East in 2012, and scientists say initially moved from a camel to human.

The source and strain of the Wuhan virus is still being investigated; that is why, for now, it carries the generic name “novel coronavirus.” Thus far, Chinese health officials have reported limited person-to-person spread of the virus.

I see a test result that lists “coronavirus.” Should I be worried? The overwhelming majority of coronavirus diagnoses will be the equivalent of being told that you have a common cold or flu. Keep in mind that the term ‘coronavirus’ covers a whole family of viruses. A positive coronavirus test result is not a cause for alarm. This can be very confusing, so please work with your physician or care team if you see this word used.

How does a coronavirus spread and how can people protect themselves against it? Among people, the virus typically spreads through coughing and sneezing, personal contact with an infected person, or touching an infected surface and then the mouth, nose or eyes. To protect against infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following basic hygiene practices, like frequent hand washing, staying hydrated, coughing into one’s arm or a tissue, and staying home if you feel ill.

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus? Coronaviruses can cause a range of symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, a sore throat and a runny nose. Most coronavirus infections merely cause a common cold; the more severe strains can lead to severe pneumonia requiring hospitalization. The CDC notes that symptoms of the novel coronavirus include “fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough, difficulty breathing)” and recent travel to Wuhan City or contact with someone who is suspected of having the virus.

Are coronaviruses treatable? There is no vaccine, and since these are viruses, antibiotics won’t work. Without any specific treatment available, health care providers generally treat the symptoms and make the patient more comfortable.

Are steps being taken to prevent the disease from reaching Los Angeles? Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is screening individuals who arrive from Wuhan City, but the disease has an incubation period of up to 14 days, so airport screeners will not catch all potential patients.

Is CHLA screening new patients? Our medical staff is adhering to all the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in all their interactions with patients in the effort to stem the spread of this new virus. All patients coming to the Emergency Department or from other hospitals are being screened for recent travel to Asia and screening questions are being used at our front desk and clinics as well.

Have there been any reported fatalities? Coronavirus deaths are being monitored worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the patients who are dying tend to be older people, and 40 percent of them had significant underlying medical conditions, which is consistent with previous outbreaks of other coronaviruses.

What signs should cause people to seek medical attention? If you have been in China within the past two weeks and develop a fever or cough or have trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately. If you recently traveled to Asia, call the doctor or emergency room in advance to explain your symptoms and let them know that you were recently in Asia. Follow those guidelines for your child as well. If your child shows any coronavirus symptoms, please call ahead before visiting an Emergency Department.

Where can the most up-to-date information be found? The situation is likely to continue changing as more information and facts about the new virus emerge. For the most current information, visit the CDC website: www.cdc.gov.