Four patients in Michigan have all tested negative for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as of Feb. 3, according to Lynn Sutfin, public information director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The patients, three from Washtenaw County and one from Macomb County, were tested because of their flu-like symptoms and their recent travel history, which included visits to Wuhan, China, where the virus is said to have originated. Their tests were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is responsible for testing samples. None of the four Michigan residents tested positive for the virus, Sutfin said.
There are 12 recorded cases of coronavirus in the United States, with cases in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington.
On Dec. 31, 2019, several individuals in Wuhan went to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. The illness allegedly originated at the Huanan Seafood Market. Now, nearly 500 people have died and more than 24,000 have been infected globally.
The outbreak, which CNN reported on Monday is more deadly than the SARS outbreak in 2003, has spread to 25 countries, including the United States. The virus not only has spread from animals to humans, but also has spread human-to-human, which Sutfin says is rare.
“Typically when you look at something like rabies you don’t see a transfer from human to human,” Sutfin said. “This 2019 Novel Coronavirus is different than other viruses around, this particular version is something new. It’s a concern.”
The virus is less likely to spread more than measles, Sutfin said, and it is less likely to become an epidemic in the U.S. because healthcare providers “are on high alert.”
“There’s a low likelihood of anybody getting it here,” Sutfin said. “Travel has been curtailed by companies, and screenings are going on at several airports. The CDC says it’s a low-likelihood that more U.S. citizens will get the virus.”
Associate professor of biology at Hillsdale College Silas Johnson, who studied immunology, said that this Novel Coronavirus is related to other types of coronaviruses that have caused public health scares over the past few years, like SARS and MERS.
“In terms of scariness, it’s less scary than SARS,” Johnson said. “But the problem is that it looks like many people have inapparent infections, when you contract the virus and can transmit it to other people but have no symptoms yourself.”
Coronavirus can spread via physical contact, in the air, and by fomites — objects and surfaces that harbor the virus after being touched by an infected or virus-carrying person, Johnson said.
The 2019 coronavirus has a lower mortality rate, Johnson said. SARS killed nearly 10% of those who contracted the disease, whereas coronavirus so far is killing 1 to 3% of those afflicted. Coronavirus infections, however, could spread faster because the infection can be inapparent. If the disease continues to spread rapidly, it could potentially kill more people than the SARS outbreak.
Scott Turske, communications director for the Macomb County Health Department, said that the symptoms for coronavirus are similar to those of the flu, though recent travel history to Wuhan is an important factor to consider.
“We are asking people and healthcare providers to be vigilant for symptoms, which are very much like the cold or flu — fever, cough, shortness of breath — but the unique identifier is recent visits to China,” Turske said. “One key thing that has been used if people are identified and screened and it looks like they have some symptoms, and they have travel experience, that is important in their being identified for potential infection.”
Turske said the four individuals in Michigan, as well as those who have tested positive for the virus, are in self-isolation in order to prevent the virus from spreading. This means that those with coronavirus and those being tested for the virus stay in their homes and come into contact with as few people as possible.
Sutfin said the MDHHS is working closely with the CDC to keep healthcare providers and the public aware of the situation. The CDC has provided a list of symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath, and the patient’s travel history, to healthcare providers.
Sutfin and Turske recommended that citizens take extra care to practice personal hygiene by washing hands regularly and covering coughs and sneezes. This protects not only from coronavirus, but from the flu — which, Sutfin said, killed around 60,000 people in the United States last year.
Johnson said that, while there are ways to treat some viruses, the best way to combat viral infection is through preventative measures, like getting vaccinated and practicing good personal hygiene.
“If you can prevent the infection from happening at all, that’s a much better situation,” Johnson said.
Though there is not yet a vaccine for coronavirus, Johnson said medical professionals are working to make one. Unlike the yearly flu vaccination, which scientists tweak each year based on the statistical likelihood of the prevalence of different strands of the flu, the coronavirus vaccination must be made “from scratch,” using only what’s known about SARS and MERS.
Both Sutfin and Turske recommend that concerned citizens to check michigan.gov/coronavirus for information about the virus and to track cases in Michigan and the United States.