Thousands of people from the United States and many from Montana have traveled to and from China over the last 30 days, but now the coronavirus has dominated world headlines as it moved out of the Wuhan Province of China and has spread rapidly.

KGVO reached out to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services for information about the virus.

Jim Murphy, Chief of the Communicable Disease Bureau described the virus.

“Coronavirus is a new variety that’s recently been detected,” said Murphy from his office in Helena. “We’ve dealt with coronaviruses several times. Some of them are very common. They cause the common cold, for example. Other times new ones emerge. You may remember SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and there was another one called MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). These were new coronoviruses that came on the scene and had much the same impact. They scared a lot of folks and led to some fatalities, but they didn’t get too far thanks to the efforts put in place to slow them down.”

Murphy spoke specifically about the Wuhan coronavirus.

“It’s a new one on the radar that seems to cause severe illness,” he said. “It seems to spread from animals and the animal food markets in that area. It’s unclear whether it’s spreading significantly from person to person. That’s something that takes time to find out. Once we find that out with the CDC working with their partners at the global level then we’ll know more about it.”

Murphy said there is a massive effort to keep the disease from spreading outside of China.

“Much of that effort is happening here on this side as well where people who were traveling in from areas that are impacted are being screened at airports,” he said. “A handful of cases have been detected in the United States. Fortunately for us we have a great public health system at the local level that can contain these cases once they’re identified.”

Murphy said there is no vaccine as yet for the coronavirus, but the flu vaccine is still effective for those in the U.S.

“The other precautions are very much the same,” he said. “The things we advise people to do to avoid the flu are much the same for preventing the spread of coronavirus. First, the chance that an ordinary person in the U.S. would run into the coronavirus from Wuhan, China is pretty minute at this point. We only have five confirmed cases in the U.S. and all those cases are in isolation until they no longer pose a threat to the public. Basically, you’re advised to stay away from sick people. If you’re sick, try to avoid exposing other people. Frequent hand washing, not touching your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands after handling other objects, that will keep you from inoculating yourself with a virus like this.”

Murphy said the good news is that despite the large numbers of people that travel to China, a relatively small number are coming down with the disease.

“There are so many more people traveling back and forth from these areas they we ever imagined,” he said. “Fortunately for us when you get to these specific areas those numbers become much, much smaller.”

So far, there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in Montana.

Click this link for details about the coronavirus from the CDC.