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SALT LAKE CITY — While critical questions about the deadly coronavirus remain unanswered and health officials around the world try to get a better handle on the coronavirus, local experts said the risk for Utahns is still low.
“Right now, the risk in the U.S. is very low,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the infectious disease division at University of Utah Health.
While five coronavirus cases have arrived in the United States, they were imported — so there is no ongoing transmission of the virus from human to human.
Swaminathan said that’s why the virus has not started spreading here.
But Swaminathan said anyone who comes down with a respiratory illness and there’s a chance they could have contracted it from a returning traveler should contact their doctor.
Officials with the U.S. State Department have also advised against nonessential travel to China, recently issuing a Level 4 advisory for the epicenter city of Wuhan.
“It does appear that the number of cases is accelerating,” Swaminathan said. “It’s hard to really know, or predict with any degree of confidence, what the rate of acceleration and spread will be.”
He said it’s too early to tell whether the arrival of the coronavirus in Utah is inevitable and whether we will see any human to human transmission in the United States. But health care workers researchers are working quickly to try to prevent that.
Researchers don’t know the incubation period of the coronavirus or even how transmissible it is.
“All of these things would help us predict how much of a problem it’s going to be,” Swaminathan said.
So, the scale of the outbreak remains to be seen.
“Although it appears to be fairly high to date, we don’t know how lethal it is: what percentage of people who are infected will actually become seriously ill, or even die,” Swaminathan said.
Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are trying to get their experts on the case with the Chinese. They want to make sure they understand all they can about what’s happening with the virus in China.
“The more minds you have working on something, the more likely you are to get a quick and clear answer,” Swaminathan said.
Officials with the Utah State Health Department also said they were monitoring for the possibility of the virus arriving in Utah.
“We should be well prepared to handle cases and to treat them with the proper precautions to prevent spread in the community,” Swaminathan said. “I think there’s enough known about this particular outbreak that we need to be alert to serious possibilities of transmission.”
Again, there had been no evidence of human to human transmission in the U.S.
Swaminathan urged Utahns to stay home if sick, wash their hands frequently, cough into their arm or tissues and don’t touch their nose, eyes and mouth without clean hands.