ATLANTA - In the middle of a busy flu season, when the Grady Emergency Department is seeing an average of about 400 patients a day, a new – and some believe troubling – virus has popped up on the radar screen, the coronavirus.
"I think since this is a new virus and there is still a lot to learn about it, this is certainly more dangerous, and we're going to take more precautions because there is more unknown", said Dr. Hany Atallah, the chief of emergency medicine at Grady.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a Seattle-area man in his 30's in the first person in the US to test positive for the coronavirus after returning to the U.S. from Wuhan City. As of Wednesday, 17 people in China have died, and 500 been sickened with the flu-like virus. And it's too early to say how easily the virus can be transmitted from person to person, or how virulent it is.
"So, it needs to be on our radar, which I think it certainly is. We're going to keep an eye on the patients. We're going to do a travel history. And we're going to consult with our infectious if we have any concern this patient may be at risk for coronavirus," Atallah said.
Chinese authorities are urging people not to travel in and out of Wuhan City, which is at the center of the outbreak. Passengers flying in from China will be routed through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International and four other major airports, where the CDC will be screening them for symptoms of the virus, and isolating and testing anyone who is flagged.
"It typically presents with flu-like symptoms and often is accompanied by pneumonia," Atallah told FOX 5.
He believes the risk of a major coronavirus outbreak here in the U.S. is "very, very low." But, they're putting together coronavirus tip sheet for the emergency department staff, just in case.
"To make sure everyone knows exactly what to look for, what kinds of questions to ask if they suspect this person is coming in with and where they've traveled to and what steps to take immediately," Atallah said. "After they've entered the emergency department, to get them into an area that is safe for both the staff and the other patients."