Rep. Roger Marshall: Coronavirus has reached the heartland

By Rep. Roger Marshall, M.D.

Five cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus(2019-nCoV) have been confirmed in four states here at home. All are linked to recent travel from the endemic area of China. A sixth possible case – in my home state of Kansas – heightens serious concerns about the impact of this international outbreak of a potentially deadly virus, now in the middle of America.

There are more than 100 other individuals across 27 states currently being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine whether they have been infected with the coronavirus. U.S. health officials remain on high alert and are adapting to the minute-by-minute updates from around the world. There are an additional 86 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 17 countries outside of China.

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China has spread to more than 6,000 people across that country with over 130 confirmed deaths. While these reports come from Chinese officials, health experts worldwide estimate the actual figures to be much larger. The Chinese government has quarantined more than 50 million citizens in more than 15 cities and villages as the number of reported cases continue to rise by the hour.  And finally, the virus infection may not peak until April.

Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to downplay the severity of the outbreak, U.S. and world health officials must continue to insist on our public health officials gaining full access to the infected areas and all relevant information. In the meantime, the U.S. must continue to closely monitor and guard our ports of entry, citizens, and travelers returning from abroad. To control the possible spread of the outbreak domestically, the CDC has set up preventive screening measures in 18 major U.S. airports and multiple other ports of entry around the country.

I encourage all Americans to follow recommendations from their doctor and adhere to the CDC’s warning against travel to China. While the CDC recommends Americans avoiding non-essential travel to the country, I would strongly urge folks to delay any travel to China until we have more information and the situation is under control. It simply doesn’t make sense to put yourself and other Americans at risk.

As a physician, I understand the uncertainty and fear of infectious disease outbreaks can cause here at home. Thankfully, the Trump administration is responding in coordination with other nations around the world as well as our state and local officials to minimize any domestic transmissions of the virus. The CDC has been hard at work investigating these cases to make sure patients who may have coronavirus receive the appropriate testing and care. Currently testing for the virus can only be done by the CDC, but officials are hopeful a commercially available test will be available in the coming weeks. This test will help countries around the world further contain and monitor the coronavirus.

The Trump administration and Congress have ensured our health agencies have the funding and resources necessary to combat outbreaks and protect Americans. Last year, President Trump signed into law the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness (PAHPA) Innovation Act. PAHPA has been critical in improving preparedness and response, and bolstering the emergency response workforce, as well as increasing communication and efforts in medical countermeasures. The administration has also consistently prioritized funding to build on previous investments to protect Americans in the event of public health emergencies including the National Biodefense Strategy and issuing an executive order on modernizing vaccine production and improving effectiveness.

As this flu and cold season continues, it may be hard to differentiate the coronavirus from other common viruses, but the primary differences are the additional symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath. Make no mistake about it, if you have had any travel time in China this year, or contact with a person from China, and you begin to have fever, aches, chills, nausea, and vomiting, and most significantly wheezing or shortness of breath, you need to call your physician or your local county health department for further testing.

The best way to prevent viral infections from spreading is to reduce the risk of exposure. I recommend, as I do with all of my patients, regular handwashing, disinfecting of surfaces, carrying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoiding exposure. Infants, pregnant women, and our senior citizens are the most at risk for serious complications from viruses and are especially encouraged to avoid public contact. Some good news, thus far it appears this virus is mostly spread via droplets, as opposed to airborne, thus making it less easily communicable.

As we continue to monitor the number of cases in the United States, a lot of questions still remain about the virus. However, we do know one thing for certain – diseases do not respect borders and our government must work hand in hand with our citizens and do everything we can to keep ourselves safe.

Rep. Roger Marshall, M.D., represents Kansas’ 1st District. Prior to Congress, Dr. Marshall was a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Great Bend, Kan. He received his M.D. at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1987.

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