By Joseph Jones (Madigan Army Medical Center)January 31, 2020
MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- Although there has only been one confirmed case of coronavirus in Washington State, Madigan Army Medical Center is closely monitoring developments around the recent outbreak first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where an outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus has been ongoing since December.
On Jan. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, and the Washington State Department of Health announced the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the U.S. in Washington State. The patient had recently returned from Wuhan, which has been the epicenter of the outbreak.
In response to the potential public health threat, Madigan is coordinating with 1st Corps, Army Public Health, and local public health authorities for guidance and response planning. Madigan is a key component of the Military Health System (MHS) and one of the largest military hospitals on the West Coast of the U.S. This means many of its patients have probably seen the recent coverage and are wondering: What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause illness in humans, animals or both. The 2019 n-CoV is a newly discovered coronavirus that is now known to infect both animals and humans, and has been the source of significant media coverage including some degree of panic. It is closely related to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other coronaviruses that cause the common cold.
On Jan. 30, the CDC announced the first human-to-human transmission of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus had occurred in the U.S. in Chicago, Ill. 2019 n-CoV has sickened thousands and killed more than 200 people globally.
Since the first U.S. case occurred in the state of Washington, home of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Madigan's Preventive Medicine team is taking preemptive measures including having a physician on call 24/7 for consultation for any concerns about a possible exposure.
"We are working closely with community partners in order to ensure that we keep patients and all of Madigan's staff informed," said Lt. Col. (Dr. ) Paul Faestel, the deputy director of Madigan's Department of Preventive Medicine.
Symptoms may include runny nose, chills, body aches, headache, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, cough, sore throat, fever and also a general feeling of being unwell.
"There are a few important steps that everyone can take in order to reduce the risk of getting any viral respiratory infections such as influenza. These include washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds," Faustel said.
All of these efforts taken together lead to Madigan being confident of its capability to protect staff, while safely caring for patients who suspect they have been exposed or have symptoms congruent with those of 2019 n-CoV. Since it's still flu and respiratory disease season, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to prevent spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed.
"We also recommend to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands and to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. It is also important to stay at home, away from others, if you are sick," Faustel added.
In addition to Madigan coordinating between various departments to ensure preparedness, it's been a priority to educate patients on what steps to take if they have symptoms.
"Contact your healthcare provider, urgent care center, or emergency room prior to arrival if you feel you have been in close contact with a suspected or known person ill with 2019 n-CoV," Faustel advised.
Patient-provider communication is critical, especially during a potential public health threat. On Oct. 21, 2017, Madigan Army Medical Center became the first large military hospital to transition to the Department of Defense's unified electronic health record, MHS GENESIS. Since its deployment, Madigan's patients can utilize the patient portal's secure messaging feature to contact their care team directly with any questions or concerns. Appointments can also be requested in the patient portal's secure messaging.
If you have questions and are not sure what to do, the MHS Nurse Advice Line (800) TRICARE (874-2273), Option 1, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The MHS Nurse Advice Line will connect you with a team of registered nurses at any time for advice about your immediate health care needs; this includes pediatric advice. Patients can alternatively call the Puget Sound Military Appointing Center at 800-404-4506 to schedule an appointment with your provider.
If you need to be seen within 24 hours for non-emergency illness or injury, visits to TRICARE-authorized network urgent care centers no longer require an authorization. This allows beneficiaries improved access to care and reduces unnecessary emergency room visits. Beneficiaries using TRICARE Prime, or any other TRICARE plan, may visit any TRICARE-authorized network UCC for urgent care. Active duty personnel are not authorized urgent care clinic visits without a referral.
If you have symptoms and have traveled from Wuhan City, China within the last 14 days or been in close contact with a suspected or known person ill with 2019 n-CoV, please contact your healthcare provider, urgent care center, or any emergency room and disclose your potential exposure status to them prior to arrival so the necessary precautions can be taken to avoid potentially infecting others while providing your care.