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What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The CDC is advising healthcare professionals follow these recommendations when evaluating patients who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus outbreak originating in China


Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the UK’s University of Nottingham, warned, “this is an outbreak that the international community needs to take seriously.” Learn more about how dispatch, EMS providers and leaders should be preparing for the potential spread of the coronavirus in this analysis by Rob Lawrence, “Rapid Response: Wuhan coronavirus – while not a ‘doomsday scenario,’ prepare for EMS surveillance.”

The CDC is closely monitoring an outbreak caused by a new coronavirus strain first identified in Wuhan, China, which has now spread to the U.S., Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Macao, Singapore and Japan.

As of Jan. 22, the number of confirmed infections in China has more than tripled, and authorities have reported hundreds of people have now contracted the Sars-like respiratory illness that has killed 17 people. Further monitoring of what the CDC has termed “2019-nCoV” has seen more than 2,000 close contacts identified and a further 1,394 under medical watch.

Coronavirus symptoms; clinical takeaways

A CDC report notes person-to-person infection in the coronavirus family is usually spread “via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.”

The CDC advises the following: Healthcare providers should obtain a detailed travel history for patients with fever and respiratory symptoms. For patients who traveled to Wuhan on or after Dec. 1, 2019, and had onset of illness within 2 weeks of leaving, consider the novel coronavirus outbreak in China when evaluating a patient with these symptoms and notify infection control personnel and your local health department immediately.

Coronavirus symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Although routes of transmission have yet to be definitively determined, CDC recommends a cautious approach to interacting with patients under investigation. Ask such patients to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified. Conduct their evaluation in a private room with the door closed, ideally an airborne infection isolation room, if available. Personnel entering the room should use standard precautions, contact precautions and airborne precautions, and use eye protection (goggles or a face shield).

The CDC reports, “at this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.” Follow these precautions to protect yourself and your patients from infection.

Rob Lawrence has been a leader in civilian and military EMS for over a quarter of a century. He is currently the director of strategic implementation for PRO EMS and its educational arm, Prodigy EMS, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and part-time executive director of the California Ambulance Association.

He previously served as the chief operating officer of the Richmond Ambulance Authority (Virginia), which won both state and national EMS Agency of the Year awards during his 10-year tenure. Additionally, he served as COO for Paramedics Plus in Alameda County, California.

Prior to emigrating to the U.S. in 2008, Rob served as the COO for the East of England Ambulance Service in Suffolk County, England, and as the executive director of operations and service development for the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust. Rob is a former Army officer and graduate of the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served worldwide in a 20-year military career encompassing many prehospital and evacuation leadership roles.

Rob is a board member of the Academy of International Mobile Healthcare Integration (AIMHI) as well as chair of the American Ambulance Association’s State Association Forum. He writes and podcasts for EMS1 and is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with him on Twitter.