On Wednesday, the University of Wisconsin released a statement about the coronavirus outbreak currently affecting Wuhan, China. The virus has six confirmed cases in the United States, according to the Washington Post.
While the virus hasn’t affected anyone in Madison, six people have been tested after showing possible symptoms in Wisconsin, according to Post Crescent.
The statement released by UW Provost Karl Scholz discouraged students to travel to China and shut down undergraduate, graduate and faculty university-sponsored travel to China.
In a statement to The Herald, Director of University Health Services Patrick Kelly said UW has been monitoring the situation in conjunction with policies from the Center for Disease Control and screening patients to see if they’ve recently travelled.
“If a local case is reported, UW-Madison will take steps in accordance with CDC guidelines to respond to any health and safety risk to the campus community,” Kelly said. “UHS has also worked with campus, state, and local health officials to provide updates to the campus community.”
Kelly said UHS has been actively updating their website with information.
Kelly said most people will get infected with a form of coronavirus at some point in their life — many are mild infections similar to the flu. To lower their risk, Kelly said students can keep up their personal hygiene — washing their hands often, avoiding touching their face, covering their coughs and sneezes.
Professor emeritus in the School of Veterinary Medicine Christopher Olsen said while this outbreak is serious, students should be more worried about infections like influenza. He said taking steps to reinforce personal hygiene is always important this type of year.
“There have been human coronaviruses around for many many years,” Olsen said. “Prior to 2002, those coronaviruses were associated only with very mild, mostly upper respiratory infections. So we think that those viruses account for about a third of the common colds that we all suffer every year.”
The coronavirus in Wuhan, Olsen said, is a different strain than experts have seen in the past, but similar to previous outbreaks of other coronaviruses including the SARS virus and the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus. Those viruses were more highly pathogenic and dangerous but Biochemistry professor Robert Kirchdoerfer said extensive public health efforts shut them down.
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Overall, Kirchdoerfer said students don’t need to worry about the virus — they should focus on fighting the flu.
“The spread of a novel coronavirus in humans is a serious concern, but the outbreak is being taken seriously by public health officials and university officials,” Kirchdoerfer said. “Unless you have been exposed to someone who recently traveled to China and became ill, people in the U.S. are at higher risk for contracting influenza than the novel coronavirus.”