County keeping watch on coronavirus

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SMITHFIELD — It’s 7,796 miles from Johnston County to Wuhan, China, site of a deadly virus outbreak.

Still, the Johnston County Public Health Department is keeping tabs on the coronavirus, Dr. Marilyn Pearson, the department’s director, told county commissioners last week. “I know people have questions,” she said. “There’s a lot on the news right now.”

The good news, Pearson said, is that “there have not been any confirmed cases in North Carolina.”

What Johnston County needs now is diligence, she said. “We are working with the (state) Division of Public Health and the (Centers for Disease Control) to try ... to keep anybody from getting sick in North Carolina,” Pearson said.

Part of that effort is sharing prevention tips with the public, she said. “So we’re trying to tell people to do the things that we tell them to do for the flu,” Pearson said. “If you’re sick, stay home. Avoid those who are sick. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Don’t put your hands to your face.”

Pearson shared information about the coronavirus. Here are some highlights.

• The 2019 novel coronavirus is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person.

• The virus is spreading from person to person in China and has been detected in other countries, including the United States. However, the virus is not currently spreading in the United States.

• The first case in the United States was reported on Jan. 21. As of Feb. 7, the CDC had confirmed a total of 12 cases in the country.

• Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. It’s unclear how easily or sustainably the coronavirus is spreading between people.

• Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

• Severe complications include pneumonia in both lungs.

• If you were in China recently and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, get medical care. Call your doctor’s office before you go and tell the staff about your travel and symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness.

• There is no vaccine to protect against coronavirus.

• There is no specific antiviral treatment. People with coronavirus can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

The CDC is updating information regularly at cdc.gov, Pearson told commissioners.

“It’s rapidly evolving and changing,” she said. “So even while I’m standing here, I’m sure new things have happened. But we are monitoring everything closely and will keep you updated.”