SOMERSET, NJ - There is an outbreak of a novel virus called coronavirus that is causing an illness called 2019-CoV now renamed COVID-19 as of February 11th 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronaviruses are a large group of zoonotic viruses that normally exists in animals but can infect humans. 

Chinese authorities first identified and reported the disease in December 2019 in China, it was thought to originate in a seafood market in Wuhan, China. The virus is believed to be similar to the SARS virus and MERS virus.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was first reported in Asia in February 2003, which lead to a global outbreak and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was first reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Both diseases are similar to the illness COVID-19 in that both infect people initially by causing severe respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, cough and SOB and ultimately lead to death.  

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So far, there have been thousands of reported cases and deaths in China, but CDC says at this time the virus spreads mainly via respiratory droplets like the flu, a person-to-person contact. There is still so much to learn about the overall transmission and severity of this virus. What is known so far is that the symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

According to the CDC symptoms can appear in as few as 2 days and can last up to 14 days. In severe cases, the virus can cause severe respiratory symptoms leading to pneumonia, and can cause gastrointestinal disorders and kidney failure and death. Unaffected people can avoid contracting the virus by implementing basic handwashing technique and by avoiding contact with known affected persons. TAP here for a complete list of precautions and ways to protect yourself.

Though there has been confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, the CDC states that the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high in the United States and globally, at this time the CDC encourages taking precaution and to avoid nonessential travel to China and also avoid contact with people who have traveled to China.

TAP here for a list of travel notices and answers to general questions about travel safety that can be accessed via the CDC website. TAP here for information from Somerset County. 

There is a specific test kit that is used to detect the virus in patients that already show signs and symptoms, according to the CDC. 

Healthcare workers caring for infected patients with the COVID-19 illness are at an increased risk of becoming infected themselves, according to the CDC. 

As far as the public who are unlikely to be exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the risk is said to be low at this time. It is unclear how many more cases will be identified in the upcoming days in the United States. It will likely as a result of person-to-person spread, according to the CDC. 

The CDC has an entire list of recommendations on their website. They encourage the public to get the flu vaccine and take precautions in helping to stop the spread of germs.

There are ongoing investigations on this rapidly evolving situation. For a more thorough and comprehensive daily up-to-date information about this new coronavirus (COVID-19), please visit the CDC’s official website at

The above content is not to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health professional with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding a medical condition, sign, symptom or disease.

This article was written by local resident Barbara Gerbier, PA-C, MSPAS. Gerbier has worked in the health care field for more than 12 years in the fields of Primary/Urgent Care, General Surgery, Neurosurgery and Cardiothoracic Surgery.