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A Nervous Iowan’s Guide to the Coronavirus

As it sets the entire world on edge from Canada to China to Australia, the coronavirus is both the world’s most terrifying and confusing virus.

Iowa health officials are monitoring the troublesome epidemic, which thankfully has not yet produced any confirmed cases in the Hawkeye State. Many people don’t have a clear understanding of the virus, which is a volatile mix of the common cold, SARS and MERS. Researchers have been studying coronavirus for years before it exploded in China late last year. 

“A lot of people are getting their lab results back and seeing ‘coronavirus’ and they don’t realize that’s the normal virus we see in the United States,” Linn County Department of Public Health Clinical Nurse Heather Meador told

In just a few months, coronavirus has claimed a confirmed 1,770 lives and sickened over 70,000 people worldwide through February 17. The quick, vast spread of the illness has alarmed many American health care and child-care providers unsure of how to handle the disease. There has also been confusion coast to coast of how the virus is transmitted and treated. The country’s hospitals and healthcare supply companies like the Chicago-based Medline Industries are reporting almost zero available stock of breathing masks. The hysteria has gone as far as some people avoiding the Mexican beer Corona, whose only unfortunate connection to the virus is the name it shares.

“(People) are wanting to know if they should be worried about getting a shipment of mail from China, the answer is no,” Meador said. “Some schools are wondering if they should be worried about students coming over from certain parts of Asia, no they shouldn’t.”

The United States has less than 50 confirmed cases of the coronavirus nationwide, fewer than a fraction of the 22 million Americans who have contracted influenza and 12,000 who have died this season though February 17, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The risk of conoravirus in this country is still relatively low, but (there is the possibility of the virus) changing into a pandemic,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s point man on infectious diseases and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA Today. “But we, the public health officials, have to take this seriously enough to be prepared for it changing and there being a pandemic.”

Adds Meador: “Any new kind of virus that’s out there is always going to be one of public health significance.”

For Iowa health officials, the concerning nature of the coronavirus should it break out in the USA is how its symptoms and transmission echo that of influenza. Like the flu, coronavirus symptoms are respiratory. The disease is passed from people coughing and sneezing. Most people who have the coronavirus will have a cough, shortness of breath and a fever. Additional symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or runny nose. 

Coronavirus prevention techniques mirror that of the flu: stay away from people who are sick, cover your mouth if you need to sneeze or cough, wash your hands with soap and water often, and stay home if you’re sick. 

Although American health officials have a positive outlook on the county’s ability to manage a potential coronavirus outbreak in the States, they remain on guard against a mysterious disease that still has no known cure.

The virus “is continuing to grow in scope and magnitude,” William Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Des Moines Register’s Tyler J. Davis. “It could end up being really, really big, and really, really serious.”