Doctors at Brooklyn hospital prepare for the Wuhan virus

BOROUGHWIDE — With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming the first case of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States, hospitals in Brooklyn, where large Asian populations reside in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst, have begun preparing to cope with the disease.

The virus, which originated in Mainland China, has spread to the Chinese territory of Taiwan, as well as the Asian countries of Thailand, Japan and South Korea. The virus can cause coughing, fever, breathing difficulty and pneumonia. The antibiotic resistant virus also may compromise the immunity system of older adults.

Dr. Ian Wittman, chief of service for the Emergency Department at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn, explained that at present all cases of the illness are connected directly to an area of Wuhan, China.

“Everybody who has gotten this disease either was in Wuhan or was in direct contact with somebody who had this disorder that they got from Wuhan,” Wittman told this paper.

 “Just like any other respiratory virus, it likely is spread through coughing and sneezing,” he added. “We’re not totally sure yet how infectious this disease is because it is very, very new and the CDC is working on studying it as we speak to figure out how infectious it is and how easy it is to catch.”

 Wittman went on to say that if you have flu-like symptoms, you should first treat yourself at home. “So, whether it’s common influenza or this sort of illness, standard treatments apply — taking Tylenol, taking Motrin, drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated and try to stay away from extremes of age — babies and the extremely elderly — if you can. Essentially, try to keep yourself inside and not spread it to others. Also, cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands frequently.”

Last week, according to the CDC, the U.S. began screening passengers from China arriving at five airports in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta. The first case in the U.S. was confirmed on Tuesday in Washington State, where a 30-year-old man who recently traveled to China was diagnosed with the disease last week.

The man, who appears to be in good condition, has been quarantined in a biocontainment room with security guards in a Seattle hospital. He had taken a non-direct flight from Wuhan to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last week according to the CDC. Forty-Three people he came in contact with might have been exposed to the virus.

The mysterious disease has killed 26 people and sickened over 880 more in Asia. All the deaths have occurred over the last month in the Hubei province, where the disease is believed to have originated.

The virus outbreak is believed to have originated from contact between humans and animals and was initially linked to a large seafood market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China. More recently, the Chinese government confirmed that the new virus could spread from human to human, adding to growing fears of a massive outbreak.

Wittman said that the best thing to do is take precautions if you are not sick by trying not to interact with people who are actively coughing and washing your hands frequently when out in public. “But, there is nothing to that, that is any different from prevention of the common flu virus, which I might add kills thousands of people every year,” said Whittman.

He stressed the importance of getting a flu shot; even though it will not protect against this novel strain of the Wuhan coronavirus, it will protect against influenza.

Wittman also explained what hospitals are doing to prepare for getting patients with this syndrome. “We prepare for this the same way that we would prepare for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and for the most part, for influenza,” said Wittman.

“When patients walk into our clinics and our emergency departments, they are asked if they have fever, cough, runny nose or a rash. If people have those things, they are immediately given a mask so as not to cough on others. And if they have those symptoms, they are immediately asked about travel. If you have traveled to the Middle East or China, we do some additional screening,” he added.

Wittman stressed that there is no need for people to panic, but he said that people should remain vigilant and keep doing everything they should already be doing to stay healthy. “There’s nothing out in the community that people should be doing that they weren’t doing before,” he added.

 According to reports, on Wednesday, the city of Wuhan was under lockdown, shutting down airports, trains, buses and subways in an attempt to contain the disease. Furthermore, plans for China’s Lunar New Year celebrations have been on hold as movie theaters and parts of the Great Wall have been closed. 

As of Friday morning, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory to China as the U.S. pulls out most of its diplomats and their families from the consulate general in Wuhan. 

Also, three new possible cases of the virus have been reported in the United States in California, Tennessee and Texas. A college student from Texas A&M, who recently visited Wuhan, checked himself into a hospital after suffering flu-like symptoms. It will take a few days to determine the exact cause of his illness.

Additionally on Friday, the CDC held a press briefing and identified a second case of the Wuhan virus in the United States. A woman in her 60s has been placed in isolation at a hospital near Chicago.

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