Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer for the Wexner Medical Center, said Ohio State students are more likely to catch influenza than coronavirus. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

The coronavirus has spread internationally, put people in quarantine and has travelers at risk, but Ohio State doesn’t need to panic.

Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer for the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, said Ohio State students are more likely to catch influenza than the coronavirus.

The disease originated in Wuhan, China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  According to the World Health Organization, there were 6,065 global cases as of Wednesday.

“The risk for Ohio State and Ohio residents, really residents of the U.S. in general, is very low at this point,” Gonsenhauser said. “The only risk of contracting a virus like this is by coming in close bodily contact with a person who has the virus.”

Of the 6,065 cases, 5,997 are in China, according to WHO, and 132 of the Chinese cases have resulted in death. 

There is not enough clinical information to explain the deaths caused by the virus, Christina Liscynesky, infectious disease specialist at the medical center, said. They are likely caused by lung injuries from the virus, but nothing is certain, she said. 

Outside of China, there have been 68 confirmed cases in 15 countries, according to WHO. 

In the United States, 36 states have patients under investigation for the virus, while five patients have been positive, according to the CDC. Washington, Illinois, Arizona and California are the states with confirmed cases. 

The first documented case in the United States was in Washington Jan. 21, according to a medical center memo distributed to clinical providers and medical students. 

Two Miami University students in Oxford, Ohio, were tested for coronavirus Tuesday, according to a Miami University campus health notice. 

“What we know is that there are two students being tested at Miami University,” Gonsenhauser said. “It is very difficult to know without further information if that poses a risk or not. Again, more than likely, based on what’s prevalent here at home, it’s less likely that that’s going to be found to be coronavirus.”

Gonsehauser said the virus’ signs and symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, and as a group, coronaviruses are typically responsible for the common cold.

Gonsenhauser said the coronavirus is a group of viruses called zoonoses, and though they predominantly originate in animals, they can sometimes be transmitted to humans.

This coronavirus is suspected to have come from bats, Liscynesky said. 

“You can get infections from animals,” Liscynesky said. “They think this virus came from animals at the market in Wuhan into people, and those people spread it to their close contacts.”

Gonsenhauser said coronaviruses are frequently encountered, but this particular strain has been newly identified. 

The coronavirus is transmitted the same way the flu is — through airborne droplets or from being in close contact with a sick person, Liscynesky said. Gonsenhauser and Liscynesky said it is important for people to stay calm. 

“We’re not sure of the severity of it right now,” Liscynesky said. “We don’t have enough clinical information yet to make judgment off it just yet, but the flu is definitely worse, and it’s more likely to affect our population here in Columbus than the coronavirus that’s circulating in China.”

Gonsenhauser said Ohio State will closely monitor members of the community returning from Wuhan, with extra attention on those returning with symptoms.

If the coronavirus makes its way to Ohio State, Liscynesky said the patient would be isolated, and public health would be notified and launch close-contact investigations.

Gonsenhauser said there is currently no approved antiviral or specific treatment for this coronavirus, but that is not unusual for viruses. 

“The common cold has been around for as long as we can remember, and we don’t have a cure, and we don’t have an effective treatment,” Gonsenhauser said. “We’re much better at treating bacteria than we are virus.”

Liscynesky said that because viruses are smaller than bacteria and harder to grow in the lab and isolate, they are tougher to prepare for. 

“Viruses are harder to treat. They’re harder to diagnose,” Liscynesky said. “So you have to have a pretty capable lab to do that, and we just don’t have a lot of medication for them. That’s why we’re always promoting vaccines.”

The best way to treat an infectious disease is to prevent it, Licynesky said, but if the disease is not prevented, it is treated symptomatically, which helps the patient until their immune system kicks in to fight the virus. 

People can prevent spreading the virus by staying home if they have a fever, avoiding contact with those who are sick, practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding touching their face, Gonsehuaser said. 


Students can obtain a flu shot from any CVS MinuteClinic. The seasonal flu shot is $50 without insurance; however, most insurances cover the shot, according to CVS automated phone messages. 


The Wilce Student Health Center also offers the flu shot through student health insurance or outside insurance 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.