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Coronavirus Q&A: Infectious disease specialist and CBS' travel editor answer your questions

The Q&A team brought in Dr. Linda Nabha, an infectious disease specialist, and Peter Greenberg, CBS' travel editor, to answer your questions on COVID-19.

WASHINGTON — While there are currently three confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Maryland, worldwide, the virus has become one of the most prolific epidemics in recent memory. 

In the U.S. 159 people have tested positive for the virus and 12 people have died; 11 deaths occurred in Washington state and one happened in California. The three Maryland patients, who all traveled internationally, are currently in good condition. In D.C., two test results are pending and Virginia has three pending tests. 

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Infectious disease specialist Dr. Linda Nabha said that those infected could have had virus for up to 14 days, meaning that "coronavirus has been circulating in Maryland for some time." 

"This is a respiratory droplet infection so anyone they may have coughed on, sneezed on, anyone who may have touched the respiratory droplets is at risk," Nabha said.

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Fears relating to coronavirus have caused rumors to circulate online regarding how the disease is spread and what measures can be taken to protect against it. Health officials in D.C. said that the risk of coronavirus in the district at this point remains low, but WUSA9 has been receiving numerous questions, particularly relating to travel safety and how to prevent coronavirus. 

The Q&A team brought in Dr. Linda Nabha, an infectious disease specialist, and Peter Greenberg, CBS' travel editor, to answer your questions on the virus. 

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Dr. Linda Nabha, infectious disease specialist

1. What are the symptoms of coronavirus? 

What we know from China is that people present with flu-like symptoms. Those who have tested positively for the virus most commonly have a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains. There are some cases of diarrhea or gastrointestinal problems. 

We do believe that people have had a very mild form, so mild that they didn't have to present to a hospital or a physician. There have been documented cases in China of people who did not have any symptoms and tested positive for the virus. 

2. What should parents do to protect their kids?

Reinforce the need to be vigilant with hand washing and don't let them pick their noses. 

Generally, children can be a high-risk population for infection, but in this particular infection, we're seeing very mild symptoms in children. Some are testing positive for the virus without any symptoms. 

3. Who is most at risk of getting coronavirus? 

The data we are using is from China. The at-risk population includes individuals over 60 and those with pre-existing respiratory problems. 

4. Who should be tested for coronavirus? Just those who display the symptoms or is there an at-risk population who should be tested immediately? 

There's no surveillance testing at this point. The criteria now is that if someone comes in with respiratory infection plus a fever, and they've traveled to particular countries or they've been exposed to a population where there is community spread, if they've been to a nursing facility or a hospital and they're presenting with these symptoms, they should be tested. 

5. How long does recovery take after a person tests positive for coronavirus?

There is actually no treatment for coronavirus. Essentially, you treat the symptoms themselves, not coronavirus as a whole. Rest and fluids are key.

How you treat someone with coronavirus really depends on how severe the symptoms are. If someone presents with mild symptoms  -- like mild cough and upper respiratory infection -- they can be kept home. But if someone presents with more severe symptoms, they may need to hospitalized.

If someone is elderly or has respiratory failure, they need oxygen and they need to be evaluated by the ICU. 

6. What is the possibility of the virus mutating even more?

The possibility of a virus mutating is very common. The influenza virus mutates quite often and that's why the flu shot doesn't always work. We know there a couple of strains of this current novel coronavirus. Some of those strains cause mild symptoms and some cause severe illness.

7. What does it mean now that coronavirus is in Maryland? 

I expect a community spread of this, which means we all need to have contingency plans. We need to be prepared on a personal level, on a work level and if you have kids, on a child-care level. 

This is not the time to panic, it's just the time to prepare. 

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Peter Greenberg, CBS Travel Editor

1. For people planning to travel for spring break, what precautions can they take?

The best advice for anyone traveling right now is to use common sense and follow basic personal hygiene protocols. Wash your hands before and after eating or using restrooms and wipe down all common surfaces -- tray tables, armrests etc. -- you touch with antiseptic wipes. In hotel rooms, wipe off the TV remote, the telephone, run the glasses in your room under hot water for two minutes before using them. 

2. Are cruise ships safe right now? 

There are currently 365 cruise ships sailing right no -- none of them are in Asia or China -- and how many have been directly involved with the virus? One. Those are great odds, in your favor. And yet many Americans have this image of cruise ships as giant floating Petri dishes, just waiting to be quarantined. It's not only unfair, but untrue. 

Many of the cruise ships are eliminating buffets right now to protect against viruses. You'll have your meals served to you by a waiter individually. 

3. Is it safe to fly to the Caribbean for spring break?

I was just there last week, and I'm flying down again this coming Monday. 

3. Are rideshare drivers at risk for contracting the coronavirus. Are there specific precautions I should take or should I consider not driving for the duration of the danger? 

I'm not a doctor, but the same protocols apply if you're on a train, plane or in an Uber. Wash your hands before and after you drive, and avoid physical contact with your riders. Use antiseptic wipes and wipe down all surfaces you might touch in between passengers. 

4. Are there any areas in the U.S. that are approaching a higher warning level?

Certain parts of Washington and California have declared a health emergency, but they are not off-limits to travelers. It would not stop me from traveling there. There is a heightened level of concern -- and there should be -- but decisions based on fear, panic, misinformation or lack of perspective are dangerous. 

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There is no vaccine available for COVID-19. In general, people can protect themselves and others against respiratory viruses by taking the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap & water.
  • Cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home from work or school.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Practice good health habits.

It's not too late to get your flu shot! While the influenza vaccine does not protect against coronavirus infection, it can help keep you healthy during the flu season.

To check the status of the virus in your state, please see your state health department's websites:

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