As of Sunday, February 16, there are 50,580 confirmed cases of the Novel Coronavirus in 24 countries, with 50,054 in China alone, and 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization.
The virus is in the family of Coronaviruses like Middle Eastern Respiratory Illness Syndrome, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. These viruses are common in animal species but rarely spread to humans. When they do, however, they can cause large outbreaks such as the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003.
As of February 16, the global death toll surpassed 1,500 people—all except two being in China.
There have been no cases of Novel Coronavirus so far in Oregon, but state and local officials are taking the threat seriously.
“It looks like this thing is spreading, it hasn’t been around very long—a lot of research is being done, but it’s something that we’ve been watching since it first emerged,” said Charlie Fautin, the interim Benton County Health Department co-director. “We are trying to keep up on both the science and the media—we are cautiously watchful.”
The Benton County Health Department is working closely with Oregon State University Student Health Services to remain informed and prepared should the virus spread to Oregon. Student Health Services has contingencies in place, having dealt with outbreaks in the past.
“This collaboration includes ongoing guidance from (the) Oregon Health Authority and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide OSU community members the most up-to-date information and support in preventing the spread of all infectious diseases,” said Jeff Mull, Student Health Services medical director, in an email.
Jenny Haubenreiser, Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Executive Director for Student Health Services, emphasizes the importance of OSU students and staff remaining informed and to respond based upon current science and guidance from public health experts, specifically CDC and WHO.
“It is very important for members of the OSU community to avoid reacting to this virus with fear,” Haubenreiser said via email. “There is a great deal of information on the web and on social media. The wrong information or overreactions based on fear can generate harmful misperceptions and biases against members of the OSU and global community. As Beavers, we pride ourselves on our core value of advancing a caring and inclusive community.”
Despite increased attention paid to the Novel Coronavirus, health officials remain concerned about the impacts of the annual flu season, an uptick in late-season flu cases this year, according to Fautin.
“To put that in perspective, last year was a mild flu season and over 10,000 Americans died of influenza. The year before was a severe flu [season], and over 50,000 Americans died of influenza,” Fautin said.
According to Mark Hornabrook, Student Health Services laboratory manager, OSU sees on average 100 cases of laboratory confirmed influenza each year. It is important to SHS that students get vaccinated for influenza, so that students remain healthy.
Students can get vaccinated against the flu by going to Student Health Services in the Plageman Building. Students will need to present their ID, as well as their insurance card. Those without insurance will have $35 charged to their student account.