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Reprinted from the Daily Local News


L-R: Charleen Faucette, Chester County Hospital Director of Infection Control
and Dr. Shafinaz Akhter, MD.


by Jen Samuel, Daily Local News

WEST CHESTER, PA — Medical professionals in Chester County, PA are confident that international quarantine procedures are keeping Americans at home safe from coronavirus, and most doctors are taking extra steps to ensure their patients stay safe.

"While we are investigating any suspected cases of coronavirus, so far no one in Pennsylvania has tested positive for the virus," said Jeanne Casner, Director of the Chester County Health Department. "The threat of someone from Chester County being infected with the coronavirus is low, unless you have traveled to China or been in contact with someone from China who has been ill with suspected symptoms of novel coronavirus while symptomatic or confirmed positive."

Around the region and across the nation, the medical community is on high-alert as a precaution to combat the virus from harming the general population of Philadelphia and beyond. Coronavirus is a new ailment which recently sprang from the City of Wuhan, located 500 miles west of Shanghai in China.

Ninety-seven people died from the coronavirus on Sunday, a new daily record since the new coronavirus was first detected in December, as the death toll rose to 908, China’s National Health Commission said on Monday.

That new total surpasses the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, according to official data.

Last week, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said that the threat from 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) remains low. While there have been 11 confirmed cases in the United States, none were documented within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In Chicago, a woman in her 60s was diagnosed after she returned from Wuhan on January 13. The CDC said the Chicago woman had transmitted the virus to her husband, who had not traveled to China. But he was in close contact with his wife during a long period of time when she was symptomatic, the Illinois Department of Public Health said.

Other US cases of Wuhan coronavirus include a student at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts. In Arizona, officials said, an "adult member" of the Arizona State University community was infected. And in Washington state, a man in his 30s sought treatment after returning from Wuhan.

Limited Impact

"There is limited direct impact on people in our area other than the possible need to change or cancel travel plans," said Charleen Faucette, Director of Infection prevention at Chester County Hospital in West Chester, PA. "However, this is an evolving situation and people should stay informed so they will be aware if things change."

Faucette continued, "While there have been no confirmed cases in Pennsylvania to date, out of an abundance of caution to protect our patients and staff, we are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for evaluation of patients who may be at risk of developing the 2019-novel coronavirus."

She said Penn Medicine is working closely with leaders of the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and local health officials "to monitor this evolving situation and are prepared to quickly adjust our procedures as more information about the virus becomes available."

"This is a fluid and rapidly changing situation with extensive local and national attention — we are all learning new things every day," said Shafinaz Akhter, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at Chester County Hospital. "The most effective personal interventions are optimizing individual health, including management of chronic diseases and making sure vaccinations are up-to-date."

Proactive Steps

Regional, national and international organizations are taking containment actions to prevent coronavirus from becoming a global crisis. In fact, the situation is not an epidemic in America, officially.

"This situation is currently labeled as a public health emergency," Casner said.

"We have been monitoring the coronavirus outbreak in China with information from our federal and state partners and are preparing our response teams in the event of an outbreak here," said Casner per proactive steps the Chester County Health Department is taking. "We have communicated with clinicians through our health alerts about the potential for coronavirus cases to spread into the United States, and into Pennsylvania, treatment guidelines and collection of lab specimens of potential coronavirus cases."

Pertinent information is also continuously posted on the Chester County Health website as well as on its social media channels.

Casner added, "The [Chester County] Health Department in collaboration with the Department of Emergency Services exercise and prepare frequently for a potential infectious disease outbreak."

There are nationwide efforts to limit travel to and from affected areas, according to Akhter. "Locally, prompt recognition, testing, and isolation of patients with concerning clinical presentation and exposure history," Akhter said.

"As a large academic health system and a national leader with deep experience preparing for and caring for patients with communicable diseases," Faucette said, "Penn Medicine hospitals are always at the ready to respond to global public health issues and collaborate with local, state, and federal health agencies."

Philadelphia Airport

The impact of coronavirus to the Philadelphia region includes "modifications of travel plans to and from areas with wide-spread transmission," Akhter said.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded the number of airports screening travelers to include the Philadelphia International Airport," Casner said. "Philadelphia International Airport is a U.S. Quarantine Station that is a part of a comprehensive national quarantine system that serves to limit the introduction of infectious diseases into the United States and to prevent their spread."

Epidemic Fears

"The novel coronavirus spread is certainly an outbreak and meets some characteristics of an epidemic," Akhter said. "That being said — these are words and definitions and say little about the impact of the illness."

Vince Schaller, a doctor at American Family Care in West Chester, said residents should be proactive about healthy lifestyles during the outbreak.

"Here we have a global scare," Schaller said, yet hopes this situation becomes an opportunity to educate the public on best health practices. He continued, "Educate on what we really need to better on, like the flu, another virus like the coronavirus. To use any situation like this [with historic significance considering the World Health and CDC’s involvement] as an opportunity to allay people’s fears, the science, to make them aware, and educate them. This is a wonderful opportunity to educate."

“The synonyms of the coronavirus are resolvable by healthy people. The public needs to know that,” Schaller said.

Schaller said, "We can actually improve people’s health with influenza by paying attention to coronavirus and explaining the difference."

Flu More Dangerous Stateside

"As we continue to contain the coronavirus through quarantine," said Schaller, who advised people to take key steps if feeling unwell. He said, "If you’re getting suddenly sick, with high fever, body aches," he advised people to seek medical help sooner rather than later. Additionally, he noted that the CDC has made an identification test of coronavirus available to doctors.

"Coronavirus can look like the flu," Schaller said. He added that, as such, it is far more deadly to the sick, the elderly or the young.

"Because this is a newly identified illness, there is definitely heightened attention and concern related to coronavirus at this time but, there are no confirmed cases in Pennsylvania," Faucette said. "We are seeing thousands of cases of influenza in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. with some cases leading to serious illness. People should always be following steps to keep themselves healthy, perform frequent hand hygiene, and get immunized for influenza to help prevent respiratory infections, now and throughout the year."

Coronavirus is similar to the flu, and even the common cold, as respiratory ailments.

"Understandably, the media attention to the novel coronavirus may make influenza seem less significant," Akhter said. "However, it is important to know that there are currently 19 million cases of influenza reported in the U.S. this season with 10,000 deaths. In Pennsylvania, we have 45,000 diagnosed influenza cases and over 30 deaths so far. Despite this, vaccination coverage is only 62 percent for children younger than 17 years old and 45 percent for adults over 18 years old."

He added that the "influenza vaccination is safe and effective."

Casner said human coronavirus is spread, just like the flu or a cold, through the air by coughing or sneezing as well as via close personal contact, such as shaking hands or even touching object or surface that is contaminated.

"The flu season is still active and there is a higher risk of getting the flu," Casner said.

Steps to Prevent Illness

Medical professionals recommend for people to cover any coughs or sneezes using their elbows rather than their hands.

It is also recommended that people should stay at home when not feeling well.

Additionally, people are advised to clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, and other frequently touched items.

Akhter stressed the importance of optimizing general health as a key step to combat illness. "This includes taking care of chronic medical conditions including diabetes and hypertension which can lead to immunosuppression if left untreated. Part of this is preventative medical care, including routine vaccinations when indicated."

Akhter advised people to take care when ill. "This means following your doctor’s instructions on medications and follow up," he said. "This should include avoiding work or crowded settings and excellent hand hygiene."

Tips to Stay Healthy

To stay healthy generally during the winter months, and year-round, doctors recommend drinking plenty of water and maintaining a healthy hygiene, which includes washing one’s hands frequently.

"Good hygiene practices such as washing hands, proper hydration, covering your coughs or sneezes with your elbow and not your hands, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, good sleep and healthy foods," said Casner.

Looking Ahead

"We deeply appreciate the Department of Health’s efforts to educate the commonwealth about the very real public health issue coronavirus presents, as well its commitment to combating misinformation about its origins," said Mohan Seshadri, executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs on Feb. 3.

"Too often, national security and public health crises have led to the demonization of particular groups of people," Seshadri continued, "and we are committed to ensuring that that does not happen here. Our thoughts and prayers are with our fellow Americans and those in China fighting the virus, as well as with our Chinese American community members worried for their families."

"While this is a worrisome public health situation, CDC believes that the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public continues to be low at this time," Casner said.

"People should stay informed by monitoring reliable sources like the CDC and other public health websites," Faucette said. "They can be assured that local, state, and national public health agencies are monitoring the situation closely and updating guidance as needed. Also, healthcare facilities across the region are collaborating with these public health partners so we can best inform, protect, and care for members of our communities."

On Feb. 7, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, held a press conference via telephone on novel coronavirus. It confirmed that no one in the commonwealth has been diagnosed with the virus.

Related Information from Chester County Hospital:

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