UPDATED: February 28, 2020
Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed at least 2,600. While the spread has slowed within China, the escalation across Europe, Asia, and the Americas is an indication of the crucial need for countries to develop and improve pandemic risk readiness. Seven more European countries confirmed cases of the virus, with most of the cases centered in Italy; the outbreak has reached the Middle East as well, with Iran being the epicenter.
Although WHO officials believe the virus has pandemic potential, the classification of the outbreak remains an epidemic. A top health official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. appears to be an imminent threat, stating as more countries experience community spread, successful containment at the U.S. border becomes more difficult.
U.S. biotech company Moderna recently announced that an experimental vaccine has been sent to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Initial trials of the potential vaccine could begin within a few months, but the process of testing and regulatory approvals could last up to a year. Pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are currently collaborating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to accelerate the progress of a vaccine candidate. Despite these aggressive efforts to produce a vaccine, experts say it may be 18 months before a vaccine against the coronavirus is publicly available.
PUBLISHED: January 31, 2020
Concerns are growing as the new coronavirus outbreak rapidly spreads throughout China and neighboring countries. Despite efforts by health officials to contain the virus that originated in Wuhan, China, cases have been reported in other countries, including the United States.
The first domestic case of the coronavirus in the U.S. was reported in a Washington state patient who had recently returned from Wuhan, China. Other confirmed cases of the virus include patients located in Illinois, California, and Arizona.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently maintains that these isolated cases pose little risk to the American public. However, experts say it is important for U.S. healthcare providers to be financially and operationally prepared as if this is a pandemic.
Impact on U.S. Healthcare Providers
Although the coronavirus is still in its early stages, U.S. hospitals and other healthcare providers have emergency preparedness procedures in place for potential epidemics. Responses to previous outbreaks have enabled the financial and operational readiness within today’s healthcare providers. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. hospitals spent an estimated $361 million on equipment and staffing to prepare for possible Ebola cases between 2014 and 2015. Many of these supplies, such as negative air pressure rooms and personal protective equipment, can be utilized to treat future high-consequence infectious diseases.
Technology has become an integral part of improving hospitals’ preparedness. National Public Radio (NPR) reports that Massachusetts General Hospital has a travel navigator alert in its electronic health records that documents areas of concern for certain infectious diseases. Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently announced the change of its electronic prompts. Any patient entering the hospital, emergency department, or clinical areas with fever or respiratory symptoms will be asked whether they have recently been to China or in contact with a person who has visited the country within the past 14 days.
Given the current spread of the coronavirus and the steady demand for domestic and international travel, the number of coronavirus cases is likely to ascend. As a preventative measure, U.S. airports began screening arrivals on international flights for the coronavirus. (A list of the quarantine stations is maintained on the CDC site.)
With no immunization or specific treatment available for the coronavirus, the CDC advises people to avoid unnecessary travel to the Hubei Province of China. People should also be extra vigilant about basic prevention measures, such as frequent hand washing, staying away from sick individuals, and self-isolating when experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness.
If you develop a severe case of these early signs and symptoms of the coronavirus, call your healthcare provider immediately:
- Fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, nausea, or vomiting
- Severe coughing
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Importance of Global Health Insurance
As the world and its economies become increasingly globalized, it is imperative to think about health insurance in an international context. International benefits solutions such as expatriate insurance plans help protect individuals from short and long-term medical expenses, including emergency evacuation and repatriation. These plans also help to avoid the financial risk of uninsured medical costs while living and working overseas.
Exposures to previous viral outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola have helped U.S. healthcare providers prepare for the coronavirus. However, individuals must also exercise due diligence and awareness to assist in preventing the virus from spreading further.