On Tuesday morning, the People’s Republic of China’s National Health Commission reported that 106 people have died due to a never-seen-before version of coronavirus, a member of the family of viruses that includes influenza.
The virus, which originated around December in Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China, now has cases spanning 17 countries, including the United States, Japan and Germany. Chinese officials have reported 4,515 confirmed cases within the country, a 60 percent increase from Monday.
A University advisory, published on Jan. 24, states that Emory’s health-care system has transitioned its attention from influenza to coronavirus and reminded students of health-care options on campus.
The message, which was not distributed to students, stated the necessity for anyone who experiences cold symptoms and who has recently visited China or surrounding countries to seek immediate medical attention.
Emory University Enterprise Communications Manager Jill Wu referred the Wheel to the Georgia Department of Public Health advisory released on Jan. 27. The advisory assured Georgia residents that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus but asserted that health-care providers should screen sick patients who have recently traveled from Wuhan.
The Wheel conducted in-person and phone interviews with epidemiology and health-care experts at the Rollins School of Public Health and Emory University Hospital (EUH) as part of a “Round Table” series, which intends to share the viewpoints of a variety of Emory faculty and staff regarding current issues within the student body.
Interviewees include the following Rollins faculty members Allison Chamberlain, Benjamin Lopman and Neel Gandhi and EUH employees Aneesh Mehta and Bruce Ribner. Interview transcripts have been edited for clarity and length.
The Emory Wheel: What is coronavirus?
Allison Chamberlain: The coronavirus is a respiratory virus. Typically, they are not very fatal, but this particular virus is of concern.
Benjamin Lopman: In the 21st century, there have now been three novel coronaviruses that have entered the human population, the first of which emerged in 2003.
TEW: What are the implications of the coronavirus globally, in the U.S. and at Emory?
Neel Gandhi: It has potential implications for the U.S. and for local communities, in that the virus could make its way here.
BL: The big concern with a new virus entering the population is that no one has seen it before, and no one has immunity.
Aneesh Mehta: I know on multiple college campuses, including Emory, there is a lot of concern right now, particularly with students coming back from winter break. At Emory, there have already been a lot of communications and plans to make sure we are appropriately protecting all of our students and staff members.
AC: For a city like Atlanta, we are constantly hosting big, national and international conferences at our big conference centers, and that’s something that’s important for public health officials to maintain a pulse on.
Bruce Ribner: What we don’t really know is whether some of the people coming back from China can be carrying the virus and not exhibit any symptoms. If this becomes the case, it would be very difficult to control this infection because we would have to put everyone who has been to China in quarantine.
BL: There’s a lot we don’t know in the early days of a potential epidemic. The big things we don’t know and are important to learn are first, how transmissible the virus is, and second, how severe it is.
TEW: Are you greatly concerned about the coronavirus and its potential impacts on our communities?
BR: Coronavirus, although we don’t have firm data on it yet, could easily be as virulent, or more so than influenza. Just looking at the United States, if this infection becomes as widespread as it looks it has every opportunity to do, we are potentially looking at 30 to 50 thousand fatalities.
NG: I think a lot of attention this has garnered is because it’s new and unknown. Students at Emory are far more at risk of getting the old, well-known diseases that don’t get as much attention like influenza, tuberculosis, HIV or sexually transmitted diseases.
TEW: How should students and community members protect themselves from the coronavirus?
BR: The thing I would stress to your readers is, if you are sick: self quarantine. If you are not sick, if you come into the environment of someone who has a respiratory infection, keep a distance, use careful hand hygiene and do not put your hands to your face.