BU Closely Monitoring Coronavirus Outbreak
Passengers flying into the United States from Wuhan, China, are being rerouted to one of five US airports screening travelers for the illness
Boston University officials are keeping a close eye on a coronavirus outbreak stemming from the Chinese city of Wuhan. The illness first appeared last month and has since begun spreading around the world, with the United States seeing its first confirmed case in Washington state Tuesday. Globally, 17 people have died.
BU has students, staff, faculty members, and researchers who travel frequently to and from China, and students and scholars from China also visit the University regularly for conferences or other reasons.
Experts believe the virus originated in a live animal market in Wuhan, where there is frequent contact between different species of livestock and consumers who are looking to purchase animals. On Wednesday, officials in Wuhan essentially quarantined the area, shutting down trains, buses, subways, and the airport to try and limit any further spread of the virus.
“BU is working with the Boston Public Health Commission as we monitor this situation,” says Judy Platt, director of BU Student Health Services. “As with other contagious illnesses, we are implementing infection prevention measures, both at Student Health Services and across the University.”
Symptoms of infection with the virus can start off looking like the common cold, with people experiencing cough, fever, runny nose, headache, sore throat, or general malaise. More serious cases also include symptoms like difficulty breathing or bronchitis or pneumonia.
“The disease symptoms are similar to the ones caused by SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome]—fever, cough, difficult breathing,” says Mohsan Saeed, a School of Medicine assistant professor of biochemistry and a faculty member of BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. “But the disease severity is low.”
Students, who are generally younger and healthier, are considered at less of a risk for developing serious symptoms; people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems are at a greater risk, Saeed says. Any students, faculty, staff, or scholars who have recently traveled to China and have any of the symptoms mentioned above should contact their healthcare provider. Faculty and staff should call Occupational Health at 617-353-6630 and students should call Student Health Services at 617-353-3575.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers guidance for anyone who has traveled to Wuhan and is concerned about symptoms they are experiencing, and for those traveling to Wuhan.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Older travelers and those with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider.
Federal officials are screening travelers for the coronavirus at international airports in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and will soon expand screening to airports in two other major US hubs for international air travel, Chicago and Atlanta. Travelers are being screened with thermoimaging devices that can detect signs of fever and lower respiratory illness. Officials say that passengers from Wuhan scheduled to fly into other US airports will be rerouted through one of the five screening airports.
Boston Logan International Airport does not currently have any plans to begin coronavirus screenings.
Because this is also the height of flu season, and in an effort to encourage BU students, faculty, and staff to be proactive in preventing the spread of germs, University officials say they will be placing more hand sanitizers and sanitizer dispensers around campus to help people keep their hands as clean as possible. (Student Health Services and Occupational Health continue to run flu clinics for anyone who has not yet received a shot.)