Health Experts Prepared to Deal with Coronavirus Epidemic


03 February 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the world has nearly 17,400 confirmed cases of the Novel Coronavirus. More than 99 percent of those cases were reported in China.

Compare that to the number of people infected with influenza in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the flu has sickened between 19,000,000 and 26,000,000 people since October 1.

CDC officials also report that up to 25,000 people have died because of an infection during the four-month period. Officials note that, in an average year, the flu kills up to 56,000 people nationwide.

As of Sunday, there were 360 deaths from the coronavirus, mostly in China. There are currently 11 confirmed cases in the United States, but no deaths from the virus.

An aerial view shows the newly completed Huoshenshan Hospital, a dedicated hospital built in 8 days to treat coronavirus patients, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 2, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
An aerial view shows the newly completed Huoshenshan Hospital, a dedicated hospital built in 8 days to treat coronavirus patients, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 2, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

Experts are well prepared

Last October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security held an exercise to help prepare health experts for what is happening today. It was called Event 201. Johns Hopkins University worked in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to organize the event.

Event 201 brought together government experts, business leaders and representatives of non-governmental organizations. The purpose was to talk about how the world would react to a serious epidemic.

Crystal R. Watson is a doctor and an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She said the event was meant to help leaders prepare for what is happening now.

"The purpose of the exercise...was to raise issues of preparedness and response for those leaders so they could start working on making sure that we can develop medical countermeasures, drugs and vaccines, quickly in a severe outbreak, that we can respond and take care of the people who become sick."

How to protect yourself and others

While governments are taking steps to limit travel and reduce infections, Crystal Watson thinks there are things private citizens can do.

"The average person should also be just taking general measures to prevent infection with respiratory diseases. We are in the middle of cold and flu season as well and so - just good practices of covering your cough and sneeze, washing your hands very frequently, avoiding people who have a cough - and just trying to stay well in the midst of cold and flu season."

Serious cases get the most attention at first

With the novel coronavirus, one that did not affect people until now, doctors often pay more attention to the serious cases.

"We are still learning a lot about this new virus...one thing that happens early on in an outbreak, a novel outbreak like this is that you see there's a bias toward seeing the more severe cases and death. So we're seeing those now. But as we go through and gather more...data, we're going to find that there are many more mild cases that are not being now detected. So we anticipate that that fatality rate will decrease significantly as this continues to spread."

The world is better prepared now

Crystal Watson says that the world is better prepared now than it was over 15 years ago when faced with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, known as SARS.

"There are definitely very important steps that the world has taken over the last 10 years to get better prepared. We can always do more, but I think people are taking this very seriously and responding in the best way that we can."

I'm Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins reported on this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

epidemic – n. a large number of cases of an infectious disease in a community

symptom – n. a sign of a disease or disorder

quarantine – n. a period of time in isolation from others to prevent the spread of infection

practice – n. the expected way of doing something

noveladj. new and different from what has been known before

biasn. to have a strong and often unfair influence on (someone or something)

detectv. to discover or notice the presence of (something that is hidden or hard to see, hear or taste)

anticipatev. to think of (something that will or might happen in the future)

What do you think of the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

Health care experts at the CDC say that there are simple steps you can take at home, school, or work to protect yourself and others against viruses.

To protect yourself

  • Wash your hands often or use hand-cleaning gel
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects
  • Be prepared and informed

To protect others when you have an infection

  • Stay at home when you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes