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Kent County monitoring novel coronavirus; local woman caught different strain

Posted at 5:17 PM, Jan 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-24 17:39:58-05

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Public health officials at the Kent County Health Department say there've been no cases of the new coronavirus strain here, but they're keeping a close eye on the situation. FOX 17 did speak with a woman who says she had a different strain of the coronavirus last year, and it took months to shake.

Epidemiologist Brian Hartl said, "Any time you have a new virus and people who haven't been exposed to it... their immune systems aren't prepared to battle it. You can have situations where you can have more serious illness."

He says the coronavirus itself is not new. In fact, Hartl says it's a large family of viruses. You might remember SARS from 2003. There's also Middle East respiratory syndrome or MERS. Hartl says four strains of coronavirus cause the common cold.

"The symptoms are very common. So it's fever, cough, and difficulty breathing," he explained.

Hartl says the strain that's made its way to the US from China has never been seen before.

"Right now, what public health does is surveillance. We try to identify those people at risk for infection. So obviously everyone who's coming from China, at this point from Wuhan, China is being funneled through five airports in the United States. So they're able to be monitored (and) assessed for their health status at those airports, and if they're showing signs of illness they're further evaluated," he explained.

Kelly Maurer of Wyoming says doctors at Spectrum Health diagnosed her with a strain of the coronavirus last year. She says it led to pneumonia.

"It took a long time for me to feel better, and I've never been sick in my life," Maurer said.

She explained, "The fever was 14 days long at first. Non-stop."

It was just one of the symptoms. Maurer says she missed a month of work and was in the hospital for three days receiving various antibiotics that didn't do the trick.

"The hospital staff all came in with gowns and masks and gloves," she recalled.

"The infectious disease specialist here in Grand Rapids was involved, and they said that the flu shot wouldn't have helped. Like there was no vaccination that would have made it any better," Maurer said.

She says it's a mystery how she caught it and says she hadn't been out of the country which is a current concern.

Hartl explained, "Health providers across the country are asking questions about people's travel history. Have you traveled to china in the past 14 days, in the past 30 days? So that gives us an indication of whether or not they're at risk for this virus."

The Centers for Disease Control says people should suspend all non-essential travel to China.