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Vail Valley Health Officials Planning for the Coronavirus

This map from Johns Hopkins University shows the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. No Colorado cases have been reported to date.

This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on February 12, 2020

Four tips to help stay healthy and help prevent the spread of disease:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • It’s not too late for a flu shot.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

Eagle County hosts people from around the world. That means the county also hosts the germs those people bring.

The big germ in the news right now is the 2019 novel coronavirus. The disease, which first erupted in China, so far has had its most deadly effects in that country. According to a report from The New York Times on Wednesday, the coronavirus has killed at least 1,100 people and sickened more than 44,000 in China, but experts say definitive numbers are elusive.

But what is coronavirus?

Rebecca Larson is the epidemiologist and deputy director of Eagle County Public Health. Larson said there are a number of known strains of coronavirus. The one that appeared in China in late 2019 is new and was likely first transmitted from animals to humans. While coronavirus is fairly common, this new strain has its own peculiarities, making it harder to prevent and treat.

Coronavirus of all kinds has symptoms somewhat similar to influenza, including respiratory problems, fever, coughing and weakness. Like the flu, coronavirus can be deadly.

So far there haven’t been any confirmed cases in Colorado of this strain of coronavirus. But state and local public health officials are watching closely.

Larson said that local medical providers are asking patients if they’ve returned from China in the past two weeks.

“Our mission is to identify it quickly,” Larson said. That can help the spread of the illness.

Caitlyn Ngam is the infection preventionist at Vail Health. Ngam said while this virus is similar to the flu in some ways, it’s spreading differently. There’s also no vaccine available for the disease, although that may change soon.

Ngam said Vail Health is working with public health officials on how best to work in case of prospective cases of this strain of the coronavirus.

“We’re thinking of the scenarios from one person walking through the door to a lot of people,” Ngam said.

While there’s nothing like Tamiflu to treat coronavirus patients, Ngam said there are similar treatments for flu and coronavirus. On the other hand, far less is known about this strain of coronavirus, making it potentially more dangerous than the flu.

While public health officials are keeping a cautious eye on how this coronavirus spreads, both Ngam and Larson said influenza has hit hard in the valley this year.

“We’ve seen a lot more flu in the community (this season),” Ngam said. “We’ve seen more hospitalizations from the flu … there have been more hospitalized children.”

But, she added, no deaths locally have been reported so far.

“As a community, we’re actively responding to the flu, and we’re preparing for the coronavirus,” Larson said. “It’s important.”

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