Worried about the coronavirus? What parents need to know

"The immediate risk to the American public is low."

Worried about the coronavirus? What parents need to know

When infectious diseases make headlines parents naturally get a little worried, and this week the coronavirus is in the news constantly.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern as cases involving people who had not traveled to China have been confirmed. According to the New York Times, this declaration "serves notice to all United Nations member states that the world's top health advisory body rates the situation as serious."

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first case of human-to-human transmission that occurred on American soil.

Here's what you need to know and do, mama.

1. Don't panic.

According to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, the person-to-person transmission in the U.S. happened when a woman who had recently been to China gave it to her husband. But Redfield says "the immediate risk to the American public is low."

2. Stay updated.

Parents should not obsess over media coverage of the coronavirus, but according to Dr. H. Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at Floating Hospital for Children, Tufts Medical Center, we should stay informed.

"Families are also encouraged to stay up to date about this situation as we learn more about how to prevent this virus from spreading in homes and in communities," he writes, directing parents to this page on the CDC website.

3. The family of coronaviruses is a spectrum of severity.

According to the CDC, most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The common strains of coronavirus cause "moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold" while more severe strains, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) can be fatal.

The strain that is making headlines is a severe and novel coronavirus. It's new and the similarities to influenza make it difficult for experts to distinguish it from all the other respiratory illnesses floating around this time of year.

4. There is a test for it.

When public health officials suspect someone may have coronavirus they can send respiratory and serum samples to the CDC and find out if it's coronavirus or just the flu within about 24 hours.

5. There are steps to take for prevention.

To prevent the spread of the virus the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe travel advisory for the area of China (the province of Hubei, where the city of Wuhan is) most impacted by the coronavirus.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your family from the coronavirus (as well as other respiratory illnesses):

  • "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds."
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands."
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick."
Bottom line: Don't panic, mama. The illness is likely to be in the headlines for months, but that doesn't mean we need to live in fear. We just need to be proactive and keep washing those little hands.
[A version of this post was first published January 24, 2020. It has been updated.]

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