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Local

Coronavirus still a low-risk situation in area

Health department gets daily briefings from CDC and state

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

A case of coronavirus has spread from one person to another in Chicago, but area health organizations are saying the risk in the Illinois Valley is still low.

A LaSalle County Health Department official said the agency is briefed daily by the Center for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the agency is monitoring the situation closely.

“We’re in constant communication with our working partners and based on what the CDC is saying, people have developed mild to severe respiratory illness,” said Jenny Barrie, from the LaSalle County Health Department.

Barrie said the symptoms are similar to respiratory flu; the virus causes fever, cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia and potential respiratory distress.

“It’s an evolving situation and we still have a lot to learn,” Barrie said. “The Cook County Health Department said the risk to the general public is low.”

Meanwhile, a LaSalle businessman who makes frequent trips to China, as well as Chinese boarding students at St. Bede Academy, have been monitoring the situation closely.

Jerry Phlippeau, president of the Flipo Group, a LaSalle-based importer and sales business, plans to be in China for business in April, and he’s convinced the epidemic will have leveled off by that time.

“I went through SARS — I was in China at that time — and I think it will run its course,” Phlippeau said, recalling the virus that swept through China in 2002 and 2003.

That said, the coronavirus already is having an impact on his business.

The Chinese government had shut down factories for the Lunar New Year but then extended the shutdown due the epidemic. The extended shutdown has been disruptive for the Flipo Group.

Chinese boarding students at St. Bede Academy of rural Peru are decidedly more worried than Phlippeau.

St. Bede Superintendent Ted Struck said the issue isn’t that their families are in the line of fire — most students hail from Hunan province, some distance from where the epidemic has raged — but rather, the conflicting U.S. and Chinese media reports have them concerned about the threat level.

“Chinese people know that what they read and what the media there spits out isn’t necessarily the case,” Struck explained. “So in a situation like this, they’re probably getting conflicting numbers between what they’re seeing here on TV and what their parents are getting back home.”

“They’re all very concerned.”

Earlier Jan. 30, Struck confirmed St. Bede canceled a trip planned in April to Hunan province. Several American students and teachers had planned to go. To avoid the students incurring expenses for visas and then to have some possibly back out of the trip, the academy canceled the excursion.

At the health department, Barrie said prevention is important to keep in mind, and coronavirus can be combated in manners similar to other illnesses:

• Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and if soap and water aren’t 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 with respiratory symptoms.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

OSF Health Care, which has hospitals or medical facilities in Ottawa, Mendota, Streator and Pontiac, among other areas of the state, has been monitoring the situation as well: their experts believe the risk to most of the population is low.

“There should be minimal concern for most of our population with the fact that most of these cases have been brought over from China. They all had related travel from Wuhan, China,” said Lori Grooms, OSF’s Director of Infection Prevention, in a Jan. 27 news release. “I have to have traveled to Wuhan, China, and I have to have respiratory symptoms. So, I have to have a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, even potentially diarrhea but it’s the two of those that go hand-in-hand that put me at risk for having this novel coronavirus and needing to be isolated and tested.”

There are two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Chicago and 21 others under investigation, according to a news conference with the Cook County Health Department.

The latest case is the husband of a Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from the epicenter of an outbreak in China. There have been previous cases in China and elsewhere of the virus spreading between people in a household or workplace.

OSF said it is being cautious to prevent the spread of infection by having patients they suspect of having coronavirus wear a surgical mask while they’re evaluated in a private room equipped to isolate airborne infection.

Providers are given special masks that protect from airborne particles and goggles to protect their eyes.

OSF said while patients have died from coronavirus, the first 17 people treated were older men with other health problems.

Dr. Paul Bonucci, the Medical Director of the Emergency Department for Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru, said coronavirus has always been around, it’s just that this particular strain is more of an issue.

“It’s becoming a major problem in China and the World Health Organization is considering this a global health emergency,” Bonucci said.

Bonucci said people are always exposed to viruses but their bodies tend to do a good job of defending them.

“The spread here seems to involve a fair amount of close contact for a fairly extended period of time,” Bonucci said. “It’s not as if passing someone on the street or seeing them for a minute at work is going to be a way the disease spreads.”

IVCH in Peru is screening patients for signs of the virus and directing anyone who has traveled to China with these symptoms to their emergency department.

“Viruses, unlike bacteria, don’t benefit from the patient being on antibiotics,” Bonucci said. “The treatment for these patients is what we call supportive: Pain relievers, respiratory support and letting the body’s immune system defeat the virus.”

Bonucci said it’s important for everyone to keep perspective.

“It’s more serious than the common cold, to be sure, but we don’t have a direct exposure risk here in the United States,” Bonucci said. “If they have symptoms and have traveled to China or have spent extended periods of time with someone who has, that’s when they should be on the lookout.”

Some airlines have canceled flights in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, population 11 million, in east-central China.

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