US on High Alert With Coronavirus Outbreak

The coronavirus family has been implicated in respiratory viral infections ranging in severity from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or the sometimes-fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), emergence of coronaviruses is episodic, as with SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012.

Coronaviruses make up a large family of viruses often transmitted between animals and humans. Known for their crown-like spiked surfaces, coronaviruses are categorized into 4 main subgroups: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 newer human coronaviruses, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, cause more severe illness. Other common human coronaviruses are 229E (alpha coronavirus), NL63 (alpha coronavirus), OC43 (beta coronavirus), and HKU1 (beta coronavirus), as well as the more recently named 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives, but illness usually only lasts for a short time. Common signs of infections include fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, and other respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis (in more severe cases). People with cardiopulmonary disease or weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults have greater risk factors of acquiring this infection.

WHO reported that in 2003, Chinese officials covered up a SARS epidemic outbreak for weeks before its severity forced the government to reveal its existence. After its rapid spread to other cities and countries, there were in excess of 8000 infections and 775 deaths. On December 31, 2019, cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, were reported to the WHO China Country Office.

On January 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in the United States.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should be able to: 
  • Evaluate a recent outbreak of pneumonia cases starting from central China, based on a World Health Organization release and media reports
  • Assess the clinical and public health implications of a recent outbreak of pneumonia cases in central China and neighboring countries, extending to the United States, based on a World Health Organization release and media reports
  • Outline implications for the healthcare team