Health & Science

The Coronavirus Outbreak—What Parents Need To Know

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Not since SARS and the swine flu has the fear of widespread illness been so prevalent, and if you’re a parent, you’re worried for your kids even more than for yourself. 

With thousands of cases reported in China, the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe advisory for all travel to China. Then on Thursday the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern,  citing “the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” adding that there was recent confirmation of people who contracted the virus without ever having traveled to China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also confirmed the first case of human-to-human transmission right here in the United States. As of press time, there were eleven confirmed cases in the U.S. and 121 tests pending results. More than 25 countries have also reported cases.

Coronaviruses are actually quite common, in fact most of us will be infected with a strain at some point. The most common strains of coronavirus cause upper-respiratory tract illness similar to a cold or flu. 

The problem now is that this is a new strain of the virus and it’s much more severe — think of the flu on steroids — and doctors are having a hard time distinguishing it from other upper respiratory tract illnesses. It also becomes contagious before symptoms emerge, which happens two to 14 days after exposure, meaning it can spread quickly. It’s important to note that, because this is a new strain, the flu shot isn’t likely to protect you. However, if a case is suspected there’s a test that can distinguish between the flu and more serious viruses, like coronavirus, within about 24 hours.

Experts at the CDC say the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are also the most obvious:  Wash your hands frequently with soapy water, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, and avoid anyone who appears to be sick.  Of course, you should avoid all unnecessary travel to China if that happens to be in your plans, too. 

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Staying informed with updates about the spread of the virus is much better than obsessing about it. If you notice any signs of a cold or any other similar illness, whether it’s you or the kids who seem a little under the weather, don’t wait to see a doctor. Like all illnesses, the sooner they’re treated, the better the outcome. 



The former Content Director at Parenting, parenting.com and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.