(CN) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Monday five U.S. cases of a new virus from China, and those numbers could rise as the agency keeps an eye on 110 people in 26 states who could have been infected.
Eighty-one deaths, all in China, have been attributed to the virus dubbed 2019-nCoV, also called novel coronavirus or Wuhan coronavirus for the region from which it is believed to have originated. Just under 3,000 people are infected with the virus in China, according to health officials.
But Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the CDC told reporters Monday that risk of infection in America remains relatively low among the general public, despite the virus having an infectious two to 14-day incubation period before symptoms appear.
Much like the flu, the Wuhan coronavirus is believed to be transmitted via respiratory droplets, meaning contact with fluids that are dispersed through coughing and sneezing. Also like the flu, it appears to be highly contagious, but a person must be in a contaminated environment or have prolonged exposure to someone with the virus to become infected, according to the CDC.
At greater risk of infection are those with underlying medical conditions that may compromise their immune system, said Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an epidemiologist and specialist in infectious diseases with the Texas A&M School of Public Health.
“Anybody whose immune system isn’t very robust, anything that would create that scenario in your person,” Fischer said in a phone interview. ”It could be your young age, because you’re not vaccinated, or your because body isn’t finished building itself yet. Or an older person, because their body isn’t as efficient at fighting viruses.”
Fischer also warned that chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension can also increase risk of infection, as well as any condition that may suppress the immune system like cancer and chemotherapy.
While China is reporting cases of human-to-human infection, Messonnier said there are no reports of the virus passing between two humans in the U.S. The five confirmed cases involve people who traveled into the U.S. from Wuhan.
Preventive measures for the Wuhan coronavirus are similar to that of cold or flu.
Fischer advises washing hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes completely and avoiding touching the mouth, nose and eyes. She also recommends thorough hand washing rather than the simple use of hand sanitizer.
Symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus are also very similar to that of the common cold or flu. Fischer says anyone has recently traveled to Wuhan or been around someone else who has should seek medical treatment if they experience cold-like symptoms, as they can turn to pneumonia very quickly.
The virus is believed to have originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where both meat and live animals are sold. Infection is said to have occurred from human contact with either a bat or a snake.
All travel from Wuhan has been ceased, and over 50 million people have been quarantined in Beijing in an effort to stymie the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends travelers avoid travel to the area.