What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What health officials know about the coronavirus outbreak

As new cases of coronavirus continue to spread in China and around the world, a growing number of patients in the United States have been identified as being infected with the virus. Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the international outbreak.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As new cases of coronavirus continue to spread in China and around the world, the second patient in the United States was identified Friday as being infected with the virus. Here with me now to discuss this international outbreak is Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. So first, I think most people, there's a lot of fear and along with fear comes, you know, the susceptibility for misinformation or disinformation. So, how severe is this virus if someone gets it?

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    So we are learning. I think it's important to say that we are learning hour by hour, day by day, just how infectious, and just how severe, and the mortality rate for this virus. I think what's important for people in this country to know is that this outbreak is so far contained to China. Of course, there have been cases in other countries, the United States included. And I think last time I looked, the list is over ten countries. So far, those cases have reached other countries are linked back to Wuhan. So in terms of person to person transmission outside of China, we have not seen that yet. And there are, and I always like to put this in perspective, there are viruses in this country right now, such as the flu, that pose a much, much bigger threat. There is, of course, this tendency to fear the things that we don't know, that we haven't seen. And this virus is new so I understand that. But we have to take a step back and say, what do we actually have here right now that is more likely to pose a threat?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There are actually thousands of people every year in the United States a die from the flu.

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    That's exactly right. As of Friday, yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, they released weekly data and there have been over 8,000 deaths of flu this season in this country alone, over 50 pediatric deaths, of children. And when you look at the number of influenza illnesses, we're up to 15 million. And the season is not over.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right. So this specific virus, as we learn more about it. Well, how does the medical community tackle it? What are the kind of key drivers that they're looking for? That how it transmits, whether it's airborne or whether it's through saliva? Right. I mean, what do we know about it so far?

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    That's exactly right. So we know it is a coronavirus. And we know that it belongs to this family of viruses that causes a wide range of illnesses, from just upper respiratory illnesses or the common cold, to lower respiratory illnesses like pneumonia that can lead to death. When we hear coronavirus in the medical community, we were initially very concerned because it reminded us of SARS and of MERS, both of which had high mortality rates and very, very serious infections. We don't know yet whether this virus is just like SARS or just like MERS or how severe and infectious it is. But we have seen some similarities to SARS in the sense that it has led to death and it has led to pneumonia and very severe infections. We also know that the people that have passed away so far have been, for the most part, older adults who have had medical conditions that predisposed them or made them more vulnerable.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So their immune systems might not be as strong as somebody who's sort of young or–

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And if those… And what about kids? I mean, that's that's who your primary kind of cohort is. In the patients that you deal with. Similar to the elderly, kids are also more vulnerable.

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    What we know from other viruses and from from other coronaviruses in this family is that kids do tend to be more vulnerable and they also tend to pass it. When we look at how do we contain infections? How do we contain things like the flu and other viruses that are perhaps more familiar to people at home? We tend to focus on children because they are the ones going around touching everything and sort of spreading. And at the same time are more vulnerable. We haven't really seen many pediatric cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan, that originated in Wuhan, yet. So we don't know exactly what's going to happen and how it's going to affect children. But of course, what we're paying close attention to children.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And this is the reason that Hong Kong has decided to close its schools for two weeks. That has a huge ripple effect on families, whether they can work or not. And this is probably also happening in the Wuhan area as well, one that considering the large scale area, that's locked down. How long does a virus like this incubate? I mean, how many days until you know that you're sick and you should go to the doctor?

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    That's such a key question in this outbreak and trying to contain it. We know that it can go, it's usually a couple of days. So, two, three days to a week. But it can be up to two weeks of incubation period during which you show no signs, but are sort of brewing the virus before you become fully symptomatic. And I think that is why we are seeing cases arriving in our country and in other countries. People who were incubating the virus and traveled out of China. And once they were in the final destination, finally showed the symptoms. So we know a couple of days, up to two weeks. Which is why it's so important, if you've traveled recently to these areas and you start to show symptoms, to notify your health care provider immediately.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So when they were getting on the plane from China, they felt fine, everything was OK. By the time they landed or a day after, then they feel, oh, gosh, you know, I have something here and this isn't normal.

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    Exactly.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And so what is the the kind of simplest — I mean, right now, the CDC, the State Department, lots of people have put up travel warnings: don't necessarily go to that area if you don't absolutely have to. Or you might not actually be able to get there because they've put in certain train systems and planes on lockdown. But the, you know, the concern that people have is, what — are there protections that are happening at our own borders where we're already screening for, let's say, plane loads of people or passengers that might be coming from that area already and saying asking them that same question. Hey, have you been to this area? Are you feeling at all sick? Can you go to this other line?

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    Right. And we've seen this week, I think, the images where, you know, front line news of passengers being screened, their temperature taken at major airports in this country. And when you think about it, that's sort of what you can do. I mean, there's not. You can screen and ask, are you having symptoms and let's take your temperature. But aside from that, there's not very much else that we can do to detect who hasn't and who doesn't have it until they show symptoms. And until they start to tell us, I'm not I'm not feeling well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What works? Just normal antibiotics?

  • Edith Bracho-Sanchez:

    So it's interesting. So, because this is a virus, antibiotics are not going to help. We of course, when you have a viral infection, one of the complications that can happen is that you then get what we call a secondary bacterial illness. If that happens and you have a true, true bacterial illness, then we would give you antibiotics. but for a viral infection, antibiotics are not going to help. So really, I mean, this is we say it over and over again, but I cannot emphasize it enough: handwashing. And really covering your mouth if you are coughing, if you have symptoms and trying to stay home. So many of us, and we do it with the common cold, we do it with the flu. So many of us go to work and go out and go into the subways and go into the buses and — really just try to stay home, wash your hands, cover your cough.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Thank you very much for kind of hopefully allaying some of the fears that people have with this. Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, thanks for joining us.

  • Edith Bracho Sanchez:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest