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Patient Care

Tex. EMS Agency Screening Patients for New Coronavirus

The Dallas Morning News

Two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. Two potential cases are under investigation in Texas—students at Baylor University and Texas A&M University.

But although the new coronavirus—a SARS-like illness that originated in the city of Wuhan, China—hasn’t reached North Texas, local medical professionals, schools and health departments are preparing, in case it does.

In China, more than 800 cases of the new virus have been confirmed and at least 25 people have died, according to the country’s National Health Commission. Cases of the new coronavirus have also been reported in France, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

On Jan. 21, the CDC confirmed that a Seattle man who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, is the first U.S. case of the new virus. The CDC confirmed the second case of the virus on Friday in an individual from Chicago who returned from Wuhan, China, on Jan. 13.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause a range of respiratory illness, according to the World Health Organization. Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, are both known strains. A “novel” coronavirus is a new strain of the virus that has not previously caused humans to get sick.

Although the virus has shut down public services in some Chinese cities, it has largely been contained in the U.S. The two confirmed cases are in Seattle and Chicago. Both patients recently traveled to Wuhan.

In comparison, the flu has killed 14 people in Dallas County this season. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 15 million people nationwide have had the flu so far this season, 140,000 have been hospitalized, and 8,200 have died.

Coronaviruses can cause illness in both people and animals. Some strains can originate in animals and later infect people, as was the case with MERS and SARS.

The CDC said this new strain may have originated in animals, as many of the first people to get sick said they had been around seafood and animal markets.

Coronaviruses usually spread when someone comes into close contact with someone else who is sick, according to WHO.

An infection can cause a range of problems, from fever, cough and mild breathing difficulty to pneumonia, kidney failure and death, according to WHO and the CDC.

Symptoms can appear anywhere from two days to two weeks after exposure, the CDC says.

The CDC recommends frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

If you think you have been exposed to the new strain of the virus, you should contact your health care provider right away, the CDC says.

The new strain has no specific treatment or vaccine. The CDC recommends remedies that relieve respiratory symptoms and, in more severe cases, treatment that supports the function of vital organs.

To address symptoms, the CDC recommends taking pain and fever medications, using a room humidifier and hot showers to ease congestion and coughing, drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest.

Dallas hospitals are asking patients showing symptoms of the virus specifically about recent travel to China at the recommendation of the CDC. Earlier this week, Dallas County Health and Human Services said most hospital systems in Dallas were working to implement the CDC recommendation or had already done so.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines is ready to take “aggressive actions,” but D-FW International Airport is not on the CDC’s list of airports required to give advanced passenger screenings for illnesses. A union of flight attendants for the airline, however, is urging the company to implement emergency measures.

The University of Texas at Dallas is communicating with students and staff studying or working abroad to keep them up to date with the latest developments as the disease spreads.

Officials at the University of Texas at Arlington said they, too, are monitoring federal and regional health recommendations for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“While none of the reported cases have any connection to UTA, we do want to keep our community updated and have recommended they follow CDC and public health guidelines,” spokesman Joe Carpenter said in a prepared statement. “UTA is working to identify any students who may be in or have traveled to the affected areas and is in contact with them for any support they may need.”

A spokeswoman for the University of North Texas said the school is regularly in touch with public health officials about health concerns, including the coronavirus outbreak. The university has one student studying in China, though not in or near Wuhan, and has been in touch, she said.

At Southern Methodist University, patients with a fever or acute respiratory illness at the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center are being asked for a detailed travel history. The university is also “reaching out to members of the SMU community who may have traveled through the region to provide them with the most recent health information available,” the university said.

Officials with Tarrant County Public Health said they are in regular contact with local hospitals to advise on CDC guidelines for patients possibly showing symptoms.

MedStar, a Fort Worth-based EMT service that works with 14 other North Texas cities, said EMTs are asking more questions about travel history and are giving field staff protective equipment kits, including gowns, face masks, hoods and gloves. Patients with respiratory illnesses also will be given surgical masks.

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