How Can I Avoid the Coronavirus?

By Dr. Robert Wallace

February 3, 2020 6 min read

DR. WALLACE: My parents watch the news on television a lot, and they are totally freaked out by the coronavirus that is spreading from Wuhan, China to many places around the world. We live outside Chicago, and my mom told me they have found this killer virus in one person so far in our city!

My mom wants to keep my brother and me from going to our high school, but our dad has told us to not panic about this and to just be prudent.

I'm a 15-year-old girl, and my brother is 17. What can we do at school (and on the way to school) to be sure we don't catch coronavirus? And what measures are China and the United States taking to deal with this outbreak? — Scared in the Suburbs, via email

SCARED IN THE SUBURBS: There is currently no vaccine to prevent "2019-nCoV" (the medical name for this infection), but many of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world are currently working around the clock to create a vaccine. It will take several weeks, or even a few months, for a successful vaccine to be created. In the meantime, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. I suggest we all follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends everyday actions to help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses, including coronavirus, as follows:

— Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

— Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

— Stay home when you are sick.

— Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in a trash receptacle immediately.

— Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Here is what the CDC specifically says about China:

— CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China.

— There is an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus that can be spread from person to person.

— Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province, including buses, subways, trains and the international airport. Other locations may be affected.

— Older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease.

— The situation is evolving. Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.

The CDC says the following about corona virus: "A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. This outbreak began in early December 2019 and continues to grow. Initially, some patients were linked to the Wuhan South China Seafood City (also called the South China Seafood Wholesale Market and the Hua Nan Seafood Market).

"Chinese health officials have reported thousands of cases in China and severe illness has been reported, including deaths. Cases have also been identified in travelers to other countries, including the United States. Person-to-person spread is occurring in China. The extent of person-to-person spread outside of China is unclear at this time.

"Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.

"Signs and symptoms of this illness include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. This novel coronavirus has the potential to cause severe disease and death. Available information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems may be at increased risk of severe disease.

"In response to this outbreak, Chinese officials are screening travelers leaving some cities in China. Several countries and territories throughout the world are reported to have implemented health screening of travelers arriving from China.

"On arrival to the United States, travelers from China may be asked questions to determine if they need to undergo health screening. Travelers with signs and symptoms of illness (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing) will have an additional health assessment."

I feel the best actions to take right now are to be prudent, vigilant and mindful of your health and surroundings. Keep your hands sanitized, and avoid any unnecessary travel, especially to regions where this virus is widespread. The previous coronaviruses were eventually brought under control, and it is likely that this present virus will be contained as well. But in the meantime, stay vigilant, keep your hands clean and stick to your normal routines while practicing common sense.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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