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Nebraska Medicine Biocontainment Unit monitoring coronavirus

Posted at 7:25 AM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-15 19:27:58-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - — Update 5:44 p.m.:

3 News Now spoke with Dr. Marvin Bittner, an Infectious Diseases specialist at Creighton University. He said travelers planning to go overseas should constantly check for updates related to restrictions.

"It's always a good idea to stay abreast of health warnings and this is something that can change on a day by day basis," Bittner said.

Bittner also said residents in Omaha should get the flu shot and those over 65 should also get vaccinated for pneumonia.

"Getting that flu shot every year is head and shoulders above anything else you can do," Bittner said.

Update 4:21 p.m.:

The mother of a 7-week-old child in Children's Hospital tells us her child has a strain of the coronavirus, HKU-1. This is a different strain than the one found in China.

Previous story:

Nebraska Medicine's Biocontaiment Unit is monitoring a novel coronavirus that's hit Wuhan, China, and now Thailand.

"What we know so far is there was a cluster of, sort of unidentified respiratory illnesses that began in China, in an area called Wuhan, China, which is a city that actually has about 11 million people," Director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit Dr. Angela Hewlett said.

Hewlett tells us the reports started in December and so far at least 40 people in China, and now one in Thailand have been affected.

She also says, multiple patients came in with respiratory illnesses and pneumonia-like symptoms.

"Since that time we know a little bit more about what's going on, they've identified the cause as what we call a coronavirus," Hewlett said. "Which is a type of virus that actually causes the common cold but also can cause outbreak--viruses with outbreak potential--like Sars or Mers."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness in people, and others that circulate among animals. The CDC says, rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people, similarly to what was seen with Mers and Sars.

There haven't been any reported cases in the Nebraska or the U.S., but the Biocontainment Unit, which has also treated Ebola patients, is still keeping a close eye on the virus.

"We're definitely monitoring the situation closely as we do with any outbreak that occurs around the world, and when any cluster of cases occur, and there's an unknown pathogen and potential for spread to other people we watch that very closely here in the Bio Containment Unit," Hewlett said.

According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of the coronavirus can vary but they include, respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

The WHO also says, in more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

"We are travel screening here at Nebraska Medical Center, which is incredibly important to identify people who come in with a history of foreign travel because there are lots of diseases not just this one but others as well, that can be traced to travel you know different parts of the world," Hewlett said.

Dr. Hewlett also says, "I want to emphasize too the importance of prevention you know we're in the middle of flu season and a bad flu season here in Omaha," she said. "So we want to make sure that people are washing their hands, getting their flu vaccines, staying home from work or school if they're sick and this a good way to prevent any virus, this one included."

You can learn more about the coronavirus at

3 News Now Reporter Phil Bergman will be looking into to travel concerns when it comes to coronaviruses tonight on 3 News Now Live at 6 - Available on-air, on our website and on streaming and mobile devices.

We'll also be taking a look into:

A suspect in custody for a 20-year-cold case - How police were able to connect the dots and what's next when it comes to the suspect.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts delivers the State of the State Address