On Tuesday Feb 11, UNO Student Affairs sent out an email to all students with the subject line “Tips for staying healthy!”. In the email, Dr. Carolyn Golz, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs offers students several practices in the name of staying healthy through a flu season that has seen high flu risks in Louisiana, confirmed cases of mumps at LSU, and the emergence of the coronavirus. Although Golz states that there is no reason to expect any cases of mumps to come to UNO, nor is coronavirus a serious threat to UNO’s population, it is important for students to stay calm but informed throughout the entirety of the season.
“This coronavirus likely originated from a wild animal,” says Dr. Wendy Schluchter, professor of virology and chair of UNO’s Biological Sciences Department. “Scientists have evidence that this virus may have originated in bats. China has a common practice of capturing wild animals and selling them in live animal markets for food. People likely contracted this illness from infected animals and then it spread from person to person, probably originating in Wuhan, China.”
Although the coronavirus began in China, it has recently been a global news phenomenon thanks to its spread. Even with preventative measures like quarantining of travelers in place, the increased travel of Chinese New Year combined with viruses’ tendency to spread well in the winter months has brought several confirmed cases to the US. This can be scary to anyone paying attention to the news.
“The rapid spread of the disease and the large number of deaths reported scare people,” says Schluchter. “Also, the fact that this is the first time in 50 years that the US has quarantined anyone for a disease outbreak is alarming.”
As Schluchter explains, the current strain of coronavirus is part of a larger group of viruses that have caused world-wide epidemics, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) in the past. These viruses can all affect humans and other mammals, and can cause fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Although much less common, Schluchter also notes that “in more severe cases, [coronavirus] patients might develop pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and sometimes death.”
Despite the potentially serious nature of the disease, Schluchter does not think students should be concerned. They should, however, remain wary and practice good hygiene in the name of staying healthy from other diseases that are hitting much closer to home.
“It’s extremely unlikely we will come in contact with any traveler coming in from China,” says Schluchter. “They are quarantining people for 14 days after returning from the areas affected in China, and that is helping to stop transmission [of coronavirus] beyond China. Students are much more likely to contract the flu or influenza virus. The flu season seems to be a very bad one, especially here in Louisiana.”
In the email, Golz advises that students use good health practices such as “regular hand washing (at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water), covering your cough with your elbow or a tissue rather than your hands, not eating or drinking from the same container as someone else and
self-isolating if you develop a fever.” She also recommends that students stay vigilant for any potential symptoms, and seek medical attention if any develop. Schluchter would agree that steps can be taken to minimize the risk of sickness of all kinds.
“I would advise everyone to get the flu shot,” Schluchter says. “The best prevention for any respiratory illness (cold, flu, coronavirus) is regular hand-washing. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Respiratory masks are probably not very effective for this virus, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Photo by Sue Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons