As coronavirus spreads, doctor says "be proactive" but don't panic

Posted at 9:42 AM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 11:43:14-05

The contagious coronavirus spreading out of China has now killed at least 17 people, and a Washington state resident has been diagnosed as the U.S.'s first case after returning from Wuhan, the center of China's outbreak. Despite this, Dr. Tara Narula told "CBS This Morning" that the big message is "not to panic."

"Coronaviruses are found worldwide and typically cause mild to moderate respiratory illness, but can be more severe as seen with SARS and MERS," she said.

Narula also noted that the current strain's fatalities have occurred "in those older than 60 and who seem to have underlying medical conditions."

The CDC says the risk to the general public is "considered low," but people should remain cautious.

"For anyone kind of sitting around the dinner table, this is not something you have to be worried about," Narula said. "But certainly because it is a new strain and people don't have immunity to it, and strains can mutate and change, they are worried and that's why we need to be prepared, and proactive and take a widespread public health approach."

Health officials are tracking the recent spread, attempting to trace back to who the man came in contact with in China, on the plane and in the United States and have also activated emergency operations.

The National Institutes of Health is currently researching the virus in hopes of learning more and discovering a vaccine. Until then Dr. Narula said that if infected, "It's supportive care at this point, which means fluid, rest, medicines to lower fever, temperature."

"Certainly we think this is spread by droplets. Airport precautions like wearing a mask could help. Also if you touch a surface, kind of like the flu, it can be spread that way," Narula said. She added that hand washing and disinfection are safe preventative measures as well.

Narula advises that symptoms could look like anything from a fever, cough, to shortness of breath. She warned that "it can progress to pneumonia" as well.

The World Health Organization has called a meeting Wednesday to decide whether China's coronavirus is a global health emergency. Regardless, Dr. Narula's main warning to the public is "be proactive."