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It’s all over the news: a new coronavirus strain is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness across the globe, primarily in Wuhan City, China, where it was first detected. To protect themselves, people are covering their faces with masks, a scary, yet familiar, sight. From bird flu to swine flu to SARS, you probably remember outbreaks of new infections that spread from wildlife to humans, with varying degrees of contagiousness and severity.

But face masks and travel bans don’t necessarily mean it’s time to panic. For the general public in the United States, the CDC says the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

“As it stands now, unless you’ve traveled to regions that are currently experiencing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, or have been in close contact with an infected person, your chance of getting sick with the virus in the U.S. is very small,” says Lew Levy, MD, chief medical officer of Teladoc Health, reassuring members.

If you’re worried about staying healthy this season, read on for basics about the virus, ways you can prevent illness overall, and where to find help.

Overview and impact

Coronaviruses are actually relatively common, Dr. Levy explains, causing cold-like symptoms of inflammation in the nose, sinuses or throat. The illnesses can also bring fever, cough, and shortness of breath. “In most cases of otherwise healthy people, these infections aren’t dangerous or life-threatening,” Dr. Levy explains.

This particular strain though, COVID-19, is a new mutation that can cause more severe symptoms like serious breathing difficulties, pneumonia, kidney failure and occasionally death—particularly in people who are already in poor health. Chinese officials reported that of the 213 people that died from the virus as of Jan. 30, most were elderly or otherwise unwell.1 As of that date, more than 9,700 people had been infected in numerous countries, including six known cases in the U.S.

Illnesses have ranged from mild to moderate to severe. On the positive side, more than 100 people from the hardest-hit provinces in China have recovered from the novel coronavirus and have been released from hospitals.2

Recovery is surely a good sign, although there’s still uncertainty about how far and wide the virus will spread in the coming weeks and, potentially, months.

Prevention and control

Like many other respiratory viruses, it’s believed that coronavirus mainly spreads from person to person through coughing and sneezing. More intimate contact like kissing or sharing drinks could also lead to infection. If frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, smart phones, handrails, and shopping carts have been contaminated by an infected person, you could pick up the virus there, too.

“After touching areas in public spaces, it’s important to wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to keep from catching a virus,” Dr. Levy says, adding that you should always wash hands well before eating, or touching the eyes, mouth or nose.

In the case of the novel coronavirus, avoid traveling to places that are experiencing outbreaks. China still appears to be the main area of concern. If you have been to a region where the illness is spreading—or you’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus—you could experience symptoms within two days to two weeks, Dr. Levy says.

In an effort to ramp up resources and encourage global coordination in handling the epidemic, the World Health Organization deemed the novel coronavirus a global health emergency on Jan. 30. Some experts suggest the outbreak won’t last as long as SARS did—over five months—in part due to strong measures by the Chinese government to contain the outbreak.3 In the U.S., the ongoing public health response is to contain the outbreak and prevent additional spread.

Support and safety

Just as with other viruses, the novel coronavirus cannot be “cured,” only treated. If you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms and are concerned, reach out to Teladoc today. A U.S.-board certified physician will talk with you over the phone or the Web about your symptoms, recent travel history, and possible contact with anyone who may have been infected with the virus.

From the comfort of your own home, we can evaluate your risk, making a medical assessment without putting you or others at risk. If we identify another type of illness or infection, we can provide treatment or symptom support so you can find fast relief. Reach out to us 24/7 on your mobile device, through our app or online.

Learn more about the coronavirus.



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