William F. McKeon is the president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center.
William F. McKeon is president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center (photo: Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle)
President’s Perspective

Managing the coronavirus at home and abroad

The TMC is working closely with local and national teams to protect and inform people about this global health threat

Managing the coronavirus at home and abroad

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William F. McKeon is the president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center.

In late January, a number of infectious disease experts assembled in the boardroom of the Texas Medical Center to discuss the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) discovered in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. There is currently no cure or vaccine for this new strain of virus.

As global transportation networks through air, land and sea have expanded, the amount of time it takes a deadly virus to spread around the world has reduced significantly.

Multiple sources have reported more than 4,000 cases of this new strain of coronavirus around the world, with nearly half of the cases in Hubei. However, Chinese health authorities were extremely slow to communicate the extent and severity of the situation in China. China has locked down more than 15 cities— a combined population of more than 50 million people. That is comparable to restricting the movements of all residents in the states of Texas and California.

Coronaviruses are common in many species of animals, including, cats, cattle, bats and camels. Sometimes, a coronavirus becomes “zoonotic,” meaning it is transmitted from animals to humans. In those rare cases when it spreads from person to person, human transmission usually occurs via respiratory droplets released after coughing or sneezing. Both SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) are strains of the coronavirus that have led to the deaths of hundreds of people around the world.

As alarming as the current outbreak is, it is important to remember that influenza—the common flu—causes far more deaths annually than any of the coronaviruses. Moreover, taking preemptive steps to get a flu vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of a severe illness or death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established 20 quarantine stations around the country—including a station at George Bush Intercontinental Airport—where health care workers will test arriving travelers for the new strain of coronavirus. These screening centers will also educate travelers. People who have traveled from an outbreak zone and begin to experience symptoms including fever, cough or difficulty breathing should contact a doctor immediately.

The Texas Medical Center and our member institutions are working closely with Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city, county, state and national teams to streamline communications and coordinate our efforts to support our residents.

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