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KC doctor says to 'stay calm' amid coronavirus outbreak

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 17:36:09-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges the United States to prepare for an outbreak of coronavirus, a local doctor is helping put the virus into perspective.

The CDC warned the virus could lead to a disruption of daily life throughout nation, including the possibility of school closings, working more from home and delaying elective medical procedures.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, a infectious diseases fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center with a research emphasis on respiratory viruses, said hospitals and health care experts need to have a plan in place should the virus cause widespread illness.

But for most people, there's not a lot to do, he said.

"One major tenet in a lot of lines of professions is to hope for the best, prepare for the worst," Hawkinson said. "For right now, I think it's very important to stay calm. I don't think the answer is going out and buying face masks. In fact, it's recommended by the CDC that most people shouldn't be wearing face masks. That's not likely to help you."

Globally, more than 81,000 people have a confirmed case of the coronavirus with a worldwide mortality rate of 3.4%, according to the World Health Organization.

By contrast, the typical yearly flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%.

However, this year's coronavirus does not appear, at this point, to be the most deadly strain. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was another form of the coronavirus, nearly 8,100 people got sick. Nearly 10% — 774 people who contracted SARS — died, according to the World Health Organization.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Kansas City area, but officials in Douglas County, Kansas, and both Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri have monitored individuals displaying symptoms.

Experts said the majority of people who contract coronavirus will recover from the illness.

"I think there is certainly a spectrum of disease for this,” Hawkinson said, "such as there is for the common cold or also influenza infection, where some people might have mild symptoms, some people may have more pronounced and some may have severe disease. We're still trying to learn all those infection dynamics."

We asked viewers to submit questions they had about the coronavirus.

One wanted to know if a face mask would protect individuals from getting a coronavirus infection.

Hawkinson said wearing a mask is not recommended and would not provide protection from the virus.

Other viewers wanted to know how the virus spreads

While the virus spreads from human-to-human contact, like inhaling droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes, but it's not yet known how easily the virus passes between people, Hawkinson said.

Another viewer asked how someone can tell the difference between a cold and the coronavirus.

According to the CDC, coronavirus produces the following symptoms: Cough, fever and shortness of breath.

With a cold, people often experience a cough as well as some congestion but they usually do not have a fever or shortness of breath.

If you have questions, feel free to use the form below:

You may want to check out the World Health Organization's Q&A section as well.

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