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21st Medical Group offers guidance on coronavirus

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

As the outbreak of coronavirus that began in China’s Hubei province continues to spread, medical staff with the 21st Medical Group who support Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever AFB, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado, are monitoring daily updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, misinformation about the virus remains far more widespread than the virus itself.

“Coronaviruses are common viruses,” says Lt. Col Timothy Coker, 21st Medical Group chief of medical staff. “There are a lot of them floating around our community that are not concerning. They cause, typically, cold-like symptoms. But this one is a new one that we've not developed any immunity to, so it has the potential to spread fairly rapidly.”

This particular coronavirus has been named 2019-nCoV — 2019 novel (or new) coronavirus — by the CDC. The organization regularly updates their webpage with the most current information on the outbreak, and it’s wise to research any claims made in news pieces or memes before taking action.

“While the CDC considers this is a very serious public health threat, based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time,” says the CDC’s website.

So far, eleven people in the United States have been confirmed to have contracted the virus, none of whom were in Colorado, and none have died.

“For this virus, it's not necessarily more lethal, it just may become more contagious,” says Coker. “Right now the number of people who have died from it have been very low.”

Coker clarifies that there is a concern that it might become more contagious as well as more lethal, but the deaths 2019-nCoV has caused have largely been due to complications in people with compromised immune systems, such as the young or the elderly. It is important to prevent its spread, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most dangerous disease out there.

“The main threat is the typical seasonal flu,” says Major W. Taylor Timberlake, 21st MDG chief of aerospace medicine. “There have been more deaths from the regular seasonal flu itself than total numbers affected by coronavirus.”

The easiest way to prevent or reduce the impact of a flu infection is to get vaccinated.

 “I don't think we've reached the peak of flu season yet,” says Coker. “In addition, just because you move out of flu season doesn't mean you won't get the flu in the summer. So I still tell people, hey, go ahead and get the vaccine.”

Beyond that, the best way to prevent the flu — and 2019-nCoV, for which no vaccine exists yet — is through general hygiene: hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, and, for those who develop cold- or flu-like symptoms, contacting a healthcare provider and reducing potential contact with others. The CDC recommends keeping unwashed hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth, as well as cleaning and disinfecting any frequently touched objects and surfaces. They also recommend avoiding all nonessential travel to China.

If you have cold- or flu-like symptoms, you can schedule an appointment at 719-526-2273 opt 1 or talk to a nurse at the 24-hour advice line at 719-526-2273 opt 3.  If you have symptoms AND have traveled to China within the last 14 days OR have close contact with someone is who suspect of or confirmed to have 2019-nCoV, please schedule an appointment and let them know about your exposure.  21 Medical Group staff will reach out to coordinate evaluation that ensures proper care and prevents exposure to other patients.

To learn more about preventing the spread of viruses, or for the latest information about 2019-nCoV, go to cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

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