The first two things you need to know: As of this morning, there have been six cases of coronavirus reported in the U.S., and the coronavirus is not considered a serious health threat to Americans. 

So let’s make a deal, I’ll tell you all about this new virus, if you first hear me out on another virus, one that is widespread in Colorado. 

Influenza. And most of what I can tell you about the flu also applies to coronavirus.

This season alone, over 1000 Coloradans have been hospitalized and one child has died from exposure to the influenza virus. 

Like coronavirus, it’s the elderly, very young and those who are immunocompromised, or have health conditions like asthma; COPD; cancer; and heart disease that are at an especially high risk for complications.

Also not unlike some of how the coronavirus is spreading, influenza virus is believed to spread by respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. 

These droplets can spread up to six feet away. Most healthy adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and 5-7 days after becoming sick. That means we can spread the virus even before we know we are sick.

CDC recommends six good health habits that can help stop the spread of Influenza:

(Spoiler alert: these also apply to coronavirus)

1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

2. If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick.

3. Cover your mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing.

4. Wash your hands frequently.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods.

I think this warrants repeating: Never go to work or school sick. 

Read my friend Dr. Diana Koelliker’s “Four Rules,” on how to know when to stay home here.

Have I won you over on protecting yourself from a virus that is widespread in Colorado? Call the Telluride Regional Medical Center to schedule your flu shot! (970.728.3848)

Now, coronavirus:

It’s a fast changing situation, but here’s what we know now: 

There is an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a new coronavirus. There have been over a thousand reported cases in China. 

Person-to-person spread is occurring. As of Friday, January 31 at 9a.m., there have been six reported cases presently known in the U.S., five of which in patients who had traveled previously to Wuhan, China. The sixth case marks the first person-to-person transmission in the U.S. 

Have you traveled to China — and more pointedly, to the Hubei Province — in the last 14 days? If yes, and you’re also feeling ill or showing any symptoms, which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, we want to hear from you. 

By phone! If you call, we’ll be able to triage you over the phone (970.728.3848) and expedite a care plan.  

We have a respiratory isolation room at the Med Center. If you have been to China, and more pointedly, to the Hubei Province, and you are now ill, we want to expedite your visit directly to an isolation room. 

Are you traveling to China soon? CDC has issued a traveler’s notice here

We’ve seen human coronaviruses before. They cause cause mild to moderate illness in people worldwide, it seems every few years. Two you may remember: MERS and SARS.

How do Coronaviruses Spread? The shortest answer: The coronavirus ’s a common family of viruses that can be found in many animals — it’s when an animal strain leaps to infect a human and then humans share it between each other that things get scary.  

On these rare occasions, like what we’re seeing with the Wuhan coronavirus, an outbreak occurs because our immune systems have not seen this strain of the virus before. In other words, we have no built up immunities. 

With this latest coronavirus it appears the virus was at least originally passed from animals to humans, but person-to-person spread is occurring. 

Person-to-person transmission is likely occurring via respiratory droplets — again: sneezing and coughing, the same way influenza is shared. Refer above to the same “six good health habits,” for best prevention advice.