Chinese health authorities have confirmed more than 800 cases of a new virus that is impacting people as they travel to and from Wuhan City in China. While the virus has yet to arrives in the Carolinas, Atrium Health’s Katie Passaretti, MD, says you can never be too careful and that people need to educate themselves on what to do if they contract it.

News, Your Health | one month ago

Coronavirus: What to Know About the Potentially Life-Threatening Virus Spreading Across the Globe

Chinese health authorities have confirmed more than 800 cases of a new virus that is impacting people as they travel to and from Wuhan City in China. While the virus has yet to arrive in the Carolinas, Atrium Health's Katie Passaretti, MD, says you can never be too careful and that people need to educate themselves on what to do if they contract it. 

A novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has been identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China that the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Atrium Health Infectious Disease specialists are monitoring closely as the situation is rapidly evolving. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that result in illnesses ranging from the common cold to potentially deadly effects. Katie Passaretti, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention at Atrium Health shares her answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the virus in addition to providing resources and safety tips for travelers who may be at-risk during this time.  

Initial cases involved direct contact with a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan City. However, as the situation has evolved, person-to-person transmission has been identified as a risk factor, including a few cases of transmission to healthcare workers. But overall, risk for significant spread and impact in the United States remains low at this time.

Current estimates of total number of infections is >800 with multiple hospitalizations and 17 reported deaths. These numbers are likely to continue to increase as we learn more. Deaths have occurred primarily in individuals with multiple health conditions. Mortality and person-to-person transmissibility currently appears to be significantly lower than what was seen with other types of coronaviruses.

While most cases continue to be in Wuhan City, China, 2019-nCoV cases have now spread beyond the Chinese border with 1-2 cases each in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan. As of January 26, 2020, there are five confirmed cases in the U.S., all travelers returning from Wuhan City.

What are the symptoms?

Typical symptoms of 2019-nCoV include fever, cough and difficulty breathing like many other respiratory viruses circulating this time of year.

How can I protect myself?  

Excellent hand hygiene and early identification/isolation are the most important things you can do to protect yourself and the community.

Identify at-risk patients by obtaining a good travel history - Any patient with fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness AND either travel from Wuhan City, China within the 14 days prior to symptom onset OR close contact with a confirmed case of 2019-nCoV should be promptly placed in a private room and the on-call infection prevention specialist at Atrium Health should be paged for assistance (704-337-0018).

For medical professionals, implement appropriate respiratory protection (appropriately fit tested N95 mask or Powered air purifier as appropriate), avoid contact by wearing gown and gloves upon room entry and wear goggles or a field shield for eye protection as soon as an at-risk patient is identified. While early data suggests transmissibility is limited, we are still in the early days of learning about this virus so higher-level protection is strongly recommended.

Testing - Testing patients who meet the criteria above will be coordinated in consultation with the CDC. Infection Prevention will help coordinate. Upper respiratory (NP swab/throat swab) and lower respiratory tract specimens are needed for accurate testing. This novel virus is not one that will be detected on our respiratory pathogen panel, but we still recommend you complete testing to rule out other causes of fever or respiratory symptoms, which are more probable in this geographic location.

How is the United States responding?

United States containment measures, which have been implemented currently include:

  • Five major airports are screening incoming patients from Wuhan City, China, for fever and respiratory symptoms upon arrival.
  • Travelers from Wuhan City, China will primarily be funneled through these five airports.
  • While Charlotte Douglas International Airport is not one of the airports carrying travelers directly from Wuhan City, Charlotte does have a large international airport so vigilance in all settings for individuals with possible travel-related illnesses such as this novel virus is essential. 

As we learn more about this, new pathogen recommendations above may change. We will continue to update as the situation evolves.


For more information about coronavirus, please consult one of Atrium Health’s Infectious Disease specialists.

Additional Resources  

Residents in North Carolina with questions or concerns about coronavirus may call the newly established Coronavirus Line: 1-866-462-3821. The helpline number is staffed by North Carolina Poison Control 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Nurses and pharmacists handling the calls can help people know:

  • How coronavirus is spread
  • Whether or not a person is at risk
  • What precautions can be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus
  • What the symptoms are of coronavirus
  • What to do if coronavirus is suspected

People can also visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ for more information.