BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — China state media, Xinhua News Agency, is reporting the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains to try and control the spread of a new, deadly strain of coronavirus. The virus has already killed 17 people in China and made hundreds of others ill.
The news comes at the same time as the World Health Organization is asking its expert committee for advice on whether to declare the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.
"We don't even have a good sense of how severe this infection is. There might be a lot of people out there who developed this infection that have mild symptoms," said Dr. Kevin Shiley, an infectious disease specialist for Catholic Health.
Dr. Shiley said researchers know little about the new virus except that it appears to mimic the symptoms of cold, flu or pneumonia by causing a deep-chest cough and shortness of breath.
"Previously, there was concerns that it was going from animal sources to humans and not from human to human. Now, we have some evidence that it may be transmitted from human to human. We just don't know how well it does that," explained Dr. Shiley.
The physician said reaction to the outbreak was similar to the situation in 2003 when SARS started in Asia and spread to more than two dozen countries over six months.
A large number of Chinese students and staff will be returning to the University at Buffalo for the spring semester on January 27th.
The university issued the following statement:
"The university is monitoring the coronavirus situation carefully and is taking proactive and prudent measures to ensure the health and safety of the UB community in accordance with the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At this time, the university is not aware of any students, faculty or staff who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. It is important for the university community to know that while the CDC considers this to be a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk to the general American public is considered low at this time."
Several international airports have now started screening passengers for the coronavirus - including Pearson Airport in Toronto. "They are asking questions when you are checking back into the United States during your customs process," said Sarah Feldmann, a luxury travel consultant for the AAA of Western & Central NY.
Feldmann advises passengers taking international flights from Toronto that the virus screening process could add extra time to a travel plan, so plan accordingly.
"Me personally, I always travel with anti-bacteria gel. I travel with those little wet wipes that you can wipe your tray table down or anything you might be touching," added the travel consultant. While masks are not mandatory, Feldmann said it is an option for those who have concerns about contracting a virus while on a flight.
Since the coronavirus is spread like any other respiratory virus through coughing, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo is recommending people do the following:
- Avoid coming into close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing.
- If you are the one coughing or sneezing, cough into your sleeve and not your hands. Coughing into your hands puts the germs on your hands which can then be spread easily.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers before your eat.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Keep your hands away from your face (people tend to touch their face more than they realize).
- Be checked by a doctor is you have a deep-chest cough, shortness of breath; or feel confused, dizzy or lethargic.
- Young children, the elderly, and those with serious medical conditions will be the most vulnerable to the virus.