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Can coronavirus come here?

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Can the novel or new Wuhan Coronavirus (nCoV) come to Walterboro? The answer is yes, but it is highly unlikely.

With I-95, the airport and Highways 15 and 17 bringing visitors from all over the United States who stop here for gasoline, hotels, sports, entertainment, shopping, and food, the virus could make its way here to Colleton County, but officials believe that will not happen.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta and statewide DHEC officials have been carefully monitoring the situation and believe that it can be contained. There have been 12 cases reported in the U.S. and no deaths. Worldwide, over 1,000 deaths from the virus have been reported. Confirmed cases in China top 40,000.

Delta and American Airlines have suspended all flights between the U.S. and China. The U.S. also quarantined 195 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, who arrived this week in a military basis in California, according to The Washington Post. The travelers’ movements will be restricted for 14 days.

But in S.C. at this time, health officials are more concerned about the flu.

“The flu is a much greater public health threat to us than the 2019 nCoV virus,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. In South Carolina, 44 people have already died from complications of the flu, and 1,280 have been hospitalized. "We continue to encourage people who are unvaccinated to be vaccinated for the flu as soon as possible." She said this reduces the likelihood of confusing the 2019 nCoV virus with the flu or other respiratory viruses that may circulate this time of year.

So what is being done to prepare for the nCoV if it appears in S.C.?

“We are taking proactive steps to be prepared for potential cases in South Carolina, including remaining updated on and following the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations related to surveillance, evaluation, and response,” said Bell, “and there are no cases in South Carolina at this time.”

She went on to say that several possible cases had been reported; all had been investigated, and none have tested positive for nCoV.

“We have provided training on testing to health care providers throughout the state so they can identify, isolate, and report,” Bell said.

Bell went on to explain that Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, the virus causes respiratory infections, which are typically mild, but in rare cases, can be lethal.

It is believed that the Wuhan coronavirus began in bats and snakes, eaten as delicacies and found in Wuhan food markets. The virus then spreads from human to human.

Infections have been confirmed in France, Germany, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Canada and Sri Lanka.

Across the U.S., scientists are trying to create a vaccine for the new virus, but it will take at least a few months before clinical trials start and more than a year until a vaccine might actually become available. However, Alpha Genesis Primate Research Center, located in Yemassee, is using the primates to develop a vaccine to control the encroaching pandemic. Known for its experience in creating vaccines for over 50 years, the Center is attempting to combat this virus. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Primate Center is battling animal neglect charges and fines since several of their primates recently died from dehydration due to a faulty watering system.

Regardless, it is hopeful that a vaccine can be created as soon as possible, and if one is, it will happen near Colleton.

What is known for certain, is that human-to-human transmission has been confirmed for the Wuhan coronavirus, but experts are now trying to understand who is transmitting the disease most often, who is at most risk and whether transmission is occurring mostly in hospitals or in the community.

Wuhan coronavirus appears to cause more severe disease symptoms in people 40 and over.

Dr. Craig Ward of Colleton Medical Center gave information on how to prevent the risk of infection from the flu or nCoV. Any virus can be transmitted by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Human-to-human transmission of viruses happens when someone comes into contact with an infected person's secretions, such as droplets in a cough. Caregivers are the most at risk for contracting illnesses.

For the flu or nCoV, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.

If you are concerned about the virus and want to get a mask, purchase a N95 quality mask, or masks used for dry wall installation.

Dr. Ward says that awareness is key. “If you are sick and have reason to believe it may be the Wuhan coronavirus due to travel to the region or coming into contact with someone who has been there, you should let a health care provider know and seek treatment early,” said Ward. “We have the ability to isolate and deal with the virus right here.”

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