Coronavirus: Understanding the Risks

The U.S. government has declared the Wuhan coronavirus to be a national health emergency and is warning Americans not to travel to China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging anyone that has recently been in the Wuhan, China region and developed a fever, cough or difficulty breathing to seek medical care. CDC is regularly updating information here.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) also released a statement to reiterate that the risk of infection in the United States remains low.

Americans are far more likely to get the influenza or flu virus. The CDC estimates that more than 15 million people in the U.S. have gotten sick with flu this season and more than 150,000 have been hospitalized. 

Reduce your risk

Protect yourself the same way you reduce your risk of getting the flu.

  • Get the flu shot, if you haven't already.
  • Wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue.
  • Stay home if you're feeling under the weather, know when to go to the emergency department. 

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold. However, some strains of the virus have caused more serious diseases including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The virus often presents with pneumonia-like symptoms.

Where did it start?

This outbreak originated in Wuhan, China and has been linked to a large seafood and animal market that was reported closed in January for health reasons. Typically, this virus has spread from animals to humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but scientists suspect that humans can transmit the disease to other humans.

What’s next?

The CDC is working domestically and internationally and has deployed experts to screen passengers at airports in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, more cities are expected to screen passengers in the coming weeks.

China has instituted a travel ban to control the virus.

What role do emergency physicians play?

Emergency physicians have protocols in place to protect the public and are working alongside hospitals and health professionals to stop the spread of this virus and report relevant cases to local, state and national health departments. ACEP is also providing regularly updated clinical information to its 40,000 emergency physician members across the country. 

Emergency departments approach potential public health epidemics with the “three I’s; ” identify, isolate, inform.

This process ensures identification of symptoms, isolation of the patient in accordance with proper protocol, and informing appropriate authorities. Emergency physicians also work with the CDC and others to share information, alerts, and recommendations during any acute disease outbreak.


This page is current as of Feb. 12, 2020.

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