A dozen cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the United States so far with one case in Chicago, leaving some students concerned for their health.
“Honestly, it makes me scared because it’s already infected over thousands of people and killed nearly 100 already,” Courtney Cottingham, a freshman in the College of Agriculture, said on Jan. 27. “It’s just something that no one ever thinks about that can possibly happen.”
The death toll has since risen to 490, according to a report published by The New York Times on Wednesday.
“What exactly will happen if this is the next Black Plague?” Cottingham said. “Is anyone prepared enough for that? I doubt it will be, but it’s just something that people don’t seem to be taking seriously, especially when there are confirmed cases in the U.S.”
At the very least, the coronavirus is a global-health emergency, Audrey Ruple said. Ruple has a doctoral degree in epidemiology and is board-certified in preventive medicine. She works on diseases that transfer from animals into human populations, which is what the coronavirus falls under, she said.
The general consensus as to where exactly the coronavirus originated is in an animal wet market in China, Ruple said. At wet markets, aquatic and animal species are filleted and prepped for food consumption in the market.
“The problem with markets like that — and these are not uncommon in lots of different places in the world — (is that) as we have a lot of different animal species coming into close contact with humans, it gives viruses a great opportunity to replicate,” Ruple said. “Not just within one species but across species.”
Purdue is taking steps to address the virus. On Friday, all University-sponsored trips to China were suspended and six students in a study-abroad program in Shanghai were brought home early.
The University paid for the students’ plane tickets back, Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty said via email.
“I think (Purdue is) at least trying to prevent this from going around, especially knowing that we have such a large international population,” said Emily Wu, a freshman in Exploratory Studies. “The point is they’re trying, and even if it’s sometimes not the greatest, it’s still an attempt.”
No students are abroad in Nanjing or Beijing, and one student is abroad in Hong Kong, Doty said. Hong Kong is under a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” travel advisory, and U.S. citizens are not specifically advised to leave the region.
The Purdue University Student Health Center has a public-health planning team which meets to address public-health emergencies, PUSH Director Gail Walenga said in an email.
At the onset of the virus, the team met to share information and discuss measures of action in the event of a case on campus or in the surrounding area, Walenga said. The team produced a document from this meeting which was emailed to faculty and students, informing them of the virus and preventative measures that can be taken.
“The most important thing we can do is share accurate information. We share information through Purdue Today and email communications when needed,” Walenga said. “PUSH also has posted information on the PUSH homepage.”
Students should wash their hands, stay hydrated, keep fit, eat well and try not to be too stressed about exams in order to keep healthy, Ruple said. Students should also cover their coughs and not leave their dorm room if they are sick.
“The typical onset of coronavirus is going to look a lot like seasonal flu,” Ruple said, “so anything like coughing, fever, feeling just generally at unease, certainly not feeling well. ... Any of those signs should be signals that people (should) stop going out in public, stay home and get lots of fluids.”
Wearing face masks is also a good practice, Wu said. The purpose of a face mask is to keep yourself safe from particles in the air or keep other people safe from you. If a person is sick, they should wear one so that they don’t infect everyone else, she said. If a person is not sick, they should wear one so as to not get the virus from someone who is not wearing a mask.
But some pharmacies around campus are in short supply of face masks. According to an employee at the CVS Pharmacy on Sagamore Parkway in West Lafayette, shipments of the masks have been limited because they are in such high demand right now.
It is important not to get too worried about the coronavirus, Ruple said. While there have been 10,000 reported cases so far, there have been more than 15 million cases of the flu just in the United States this flu season. Students are at a much greater risk to contract the flu than the coronavirus, she said.
“My suspicion is that we will have more people die of the flu than of the coronavirus,” Ruple said, “so I think that just trying to be more balanced and measured and really just keeping the public-health message really clear, which is that disease prevention is disease prevention regardless of which disease you’re trying to prevent.”
Despite this, people are still nervous about the coronavirus.
“(This is) because it’s new and because it’s scary, and we don’t really know where it’s coming from,” Ruple said. “SARS was a virus that we saw a similar type of an impact, but it was something that took many more months to affect much fewer people, so we’re seeing a lot of people getting sick really rapidly and that is a scary thing.”
There’s not as much research that has been done about the coronavirus as there is for polio, smallpox or the flu, so people are panicking, Wu said.
“The whole polio epidemic in the ... 19th century, for example — we don’t look at that now and go, ‘Oh, I’m afraid I’m going to get polio,’ because there’s already been so much research done, and we’ve found different vaccines and different ways to treat that,” Wu said. “I think that people are just scared that there’s no way to counteract the illness right now, and that is why it’s being blown out of proportion.”
Mass media, including news and articles online, has also played a role in creating panic, Wu said. She said some media is portraying the coronavirus as the Black Plague when in reality, less people have died from it than from the flu.
PUSH will continue to monitor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information for updates on new cases and send updates when needed, Walenga said.
“We’re very far out from where the center of this illness is ... and I’m not like, ‘Oh my gosh, Purdue’s gonna fall victim in a week,’” Wu said. “I’m more concerned for the people of China.”