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Coronavirus 101: what you need to know

Update, March 5:

Tennessee now has its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Get the latest updates from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee here:

Update, Jan. 31:

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is actively monitoring developments related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new virus that was recently identified as a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Read the rest of the statement on the BCBST News Center.

Update, Jan. 30:

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded the efforts to contain novel coronavirus, they’ve decided to proactively declare it a public health emergency of global concern, to ensure countries with less-developed health systems have the opportunity to actively protect their people from the getting the infection.

Original story, Jan. 24:

New illnesses, like those recently caused by novel coronavirus in China, can lead to a lot of media attention. This coverage can make the risks seem close-to-home and severe for everyone, even with the World Health Organization stating there’s currently no cause for global concern.

On the other hand, the CDC reported that influenza (the flu), caused more than 61,000 deaths here in the U.S. last flu season.

So, we asked Dr. Suzanne Corrington, a medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to tell us what we need to know about novel coronavirus, now that the first case has been reported in the U.S.

WT: What is it?

Dr. Corrington: To understand what 2019 novel coronavirus is, it’s important to remember that infections are usually caused by one of 3 things: bacteria, viruses or fungi. Viral infections are extremely common, causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Common families of viruses include:

  • Rhinoviruses, which are usually most active in spring, summer, and early fall.
  • Coronaviruses, which typically strike during fall, winter and early spring.

A novel coronavirus is simply a new strain that has not been previously seen in humans, and this one in particular has caused more severe symptoms than usual.

WT: What are the symptoms?

Dr. Corrington: There are still a lot of unknowns about this virus, but we do know that symptoms include cough, sneezing, body aches, and runny nose. You should contact your health care provider if you experience these symptoms, especially if you suffer from other health issues or have traveled recently. According to the WHO, most of the people in China who have died had underlying health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or cardiovascular disease that weakened their immune systems.

WT: How is it transmitted?

Dr. Corrington: Most of us have had many infections caused by coronavirus throughout our lives. They can be transmitted by air (cough or sneeze), close contact, or touching contaminated objects and then touching our face around the eyes and nose. So far the WHO reports the human-to-human transmission in China appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients.

Read the latest news on the spread of the virus on the BCBST News Center.

WT: Are there any confirmed cases in the U.S. or Tennessee?

Dr. Corrington: While the situation continues to develop, there have been confirmed cases in the U.S. for travelers returning from China. Other travelers are also being tested, including a student at Tennessee Tech. There are travel precautions currently in place.

WT: What’s the best protection? Is there a vaccine?

Dr. Corrington: While we’re fortunate to have a vaccine for the flu, there isn’t one for novel coronavirus at this time. The best way to protect yourself from infection with a virus of any type is good hygiene:

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water (or use hand sanitizer)
  • Wear a mask when traveling, and
  • Avoid close contact with people who appear to be ill.

WT: Where can people go to stay updated?

Dr. Corrington: While the novel coronavirus that originated in China doesn’t appear to be a health emergency in the U.S., the CDC continues to monitor the situation. Consider going directly to these organization’s websites for the most up-to-date information:


Ali Whittier, CHES®

Ali joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2014 and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). A native of Iowa, she has more than a decade of experience in health promotion and community engagement, as well as health care communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, she and her husband Spencer are racing their bikes, spending time outdoors or cooking healthy food and treats in their kitchen.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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