The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control said his department is preparing to respond to any cases of the coronavirus that has now sickened more than 2,700 people in China, killed more than 80 and spread to a dozen countries.
Dr. Nirav Shah said there are five confirmed cases in the United States. But he said, so far, the risk to Maine remains relatively low.
In a briefing to lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee, Shah said his department is working with hospitals, first responders and other health care providers to make sure any potential cases of the pneumonia-like illness are identified, investigated and reported.
To do that, clinicians are being urged to ask anyone with symptoms of pneumonia or influenza about their travel history and whether they have recently visited China or Asia. Shah said that way patients can be isolated and screened for the coronavirus that is now believed to be spreading from person to person.
“We want to be responsive to it and make sure that the information that comes out of the Maine CDC is first, accurate, and that it’s concise. We have to be concerned about this situation and we have to be vigilant about it. But we also have to keep context in mind,” he said.
Shah said seasonal influenza still kills more Americans every year than any other virus. So far this season, more than 120,000 Americans have been hospitalized with the flu and more than 6,500 have died, including eight people in Maine.
Shah said in a bad year, the number of deaths can rise to more than 60,000.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to protect yourself from any respiratory viruses is to:
— Wash your hands often with soap and water;
— Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
— Cover your cough or sneeze;
— And stay home when you are sick.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.