About the Coronavirus

Coronaviruses are so named because when examined under an electron microscope, they look like a crown. Coronaviruses are common – at some time in your life you have probably had a generic coronavirus infection as they cause 5-10% of colds.

In 2019, a new group (a “clade”) of coronavirus emerged in China. There have been other severe disease outbreaks associated with unique coronavirus clades in the past: Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The 2019 coronavirus is from a clade that typically infects wildlife, but made the jump to humans. Symptoms include fever, cough, congestion, body aches, and shortness of breath. You might observe that these are symptoms of the common cold or influenza and you would be right – many viral syndromes start this way. The new coronavirus from China (novel coronavirus or n-CoV or 2019n-Cov as the nomenclature evolves) causes more severe lung involvement than most coronaviruses.

If the lung problems get severe enough, 2019nCoV can be fatal. On the other end of the spectrum, it also appears many people carry the virus and have minimal or no symptoms. The severity of the infection is most closely related to overall health; most of the deaths have been in older patients with additional health problems (such as lung disease or diabetes).

After exposure, the incubation time is typically 3-6 days; if 14 days after exposure there are no symptoms, it is unlikely any will develop. There is no specific treatment, treatment is supportive. Prevention is the same as flu prevention: wash your hands frequently, do not share food or drink from the same fork, spoon, or cup, and stay away from others if you have a fever. Cover your cough and stay at least 6 feet away from others – this is called social distancing. If you progress to shortness of breath or cough blood, seek medical care. You asked to put on a mask as a reasonable precaution in the doctor’s office and asked about recent travel history.

Currently, north Texas is at no enhanced risk of 2019nCov infections. As of Monday, February 10, there are 12 cases in the United States; none are in Texas or in any state bordering Texas. Being more than 14 days into the Spring Semester, it is very unlikely any students returning from abroad will develop 2019nCoV. The Vinson Health Center, United Regional Health Care System, and the City County Health Department have a plan in place to deal with concern over the 2019nCoV. Good health habits and hand washing will see you safely through the cold and flu season, even with the emergence of a new coronavirus.

Additional information is available online at CDC 2019 Novel Coronavirus webpage

Keith Williamson, MD, FAAFP
Medical Director, Midwestern State University
Vinson Health Center