Lake, McHenry counties closely monitoring coronavirus, warn of flu confusion

Immediate health risk remains low, health officials say

Since a case of the coronavirus was detected last Friday in Chicago, Lake and McHenry counties' health departments actively have been monitoring the novel coronavirus situation.

There have been no coronavirus cases detected in Lake and McHenry counties at this time, according to local health officials.

As of Thursday, five cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States, including in Illinois. The first instance of person-to-person transmission of this virus was confirmed on Thursday in Chicago. Although the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency Thursday afternoon, immediate health risks from the coronavirus are considered low at this time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, McHenry Hospital and Woodstock Hospital, as well as the Lake and McHenry County health departments, in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Public Health and CDC, have set protocols regarding how suspected patients of the disease should be managed. Primary risk factors include a history of travel to Wuhan City, China, or close contact with a person positive for 2019-nCoV while that person was ill, according to health officials.

All patients are being screened with the appropriate questions at the time of their arrival, including if they have travelled to Wuhan City, and if they have a fever or respiratory complaints, said Dr. Irfan Hafiz, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer of the three Northwestern Medicine hospitals in McHenry County.

Hafiz said he cannot share whether a patient at any of the three McHenry County hospitals recently had traveled to China.

For those who have traveled to Wuhan city or have come in contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, the Lake County Health Department said they strongly recommend that they restrict their movement.

“If they do develop symptoms, we have really been trying to emphasize to the public that they should call ahead and let the provider know they're coming in with these symptoms and have this significant history. That will better prepare the clinic or the hospital that is receiving the patient to take the necessary precautions,” said Dr. Sana Ahmed, medical epidemiologist at Lake County Health Department.

Many patients in Lake County who have traveled to China in the past two weeks reported some symptoms of the coronavirus, Ahmed said, but did not meet the criteria for the required testing.

The Lake County Health Department has taken measures to ensure patients visiting doctor’s offices are not being exposed to the risk, Ahmed said.

“The recommendation is to immediately mask the individual with a surgical mask and place them in a negative pressure or airborne room in the hospital. If that is not available in the clinic, then put them in a private room and close that door so you're minimizing that risk of any exposure and they're not in the waiting room at all,” Ahmed said.

Health care providers would take necessary infection control precautions, including wearing gowns, gloves, masks and eye goggles to further evaluate patient history.

The Lake County Health Department said they are actively disseminating recommendations to Lake County hospitals, health care providers, infection control nurses, Naval Station Great Lake and private institutions to promote awareness and readiness. The communicable disease staff at Lake County have been responding to inquiries from residents, schools and other organizations, providing them with guidance and education as needed.

County health departments already have informed parents that the risk is low, and have sent guidance to schools directly. Residents, students, visitors, and workers do not need to change their behavior or use masks or gloves, according to health officials.

The Lake County Health Department also has posted signs in English, Spanish and Chinese in their health center waiting rooms to promote awareness among patients.

McHenry and Lake County's health departments will continue to provide updates on their website and social media platforms, they said.

Health officials warn of confusion between the symptoms of coronavirus and the flu. Current state and federal guidance provides that symptoms of coronavirus include the following: fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Influenza-like illness activity in McHenry County is currently estimated to be high, according to the McHenry County Department of Health.

“[Symptoms of coronavirus] are similar to the flu, but there's still a lot that we don't know about how the virus is transmitted, so we're learning things as we go along,” said Melissa Adamson, public health administrator at McHenry County Department of Health.

Officials there advise precautions similar to those taken with the flu, including washing hands, covering coughs and staying at home.

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