In the midst of an international outbreak of the coronavirus local health officials here in Ocean County are taking precautions to keep residents safe and well.

The Ocean County Health Department announced Friday that in conjunction with local, state and federal public health agencies, are closely keeping an eye on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak that first emerged in Wuhan, China and originated from infected animals.

Health Officials said that the new coronavirus causes symptoms consistent with a respiratory illness and has now killed at least 170 people and infected more than 8,000 across 20 countries, including the United States.

Six cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S. but none in New Jersey as of January 31, 2020.

There currently isn't a vaccine or anti-viral response for 2019-nCoV and health experts are still working to better understand how it spreads, the severity of associated illness and other crucial characteristics.

"The World Health Organization declared this outbreak an international global health emergency, but the threat is very low at this point for us here in Ocean County and the rest of the country," Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator, said. "But because this is such a new virus, there is so much to learn and manage in a rapidly evolving situation."

The Ocean County Health Department is keeping in close contact with Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) to get all the latest information as it becomes available and then to pass it along to public health providers, schools administrators, community leaders and public officials.

Ocean County Freeholder Gerry Little, Liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health is communicating regularly with health department officials so he can report back to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders with consistent updates.

"Whether it's H1N1 or the recent measles outbreak, OCHD will follow similar response efforts for the new coronavirus should it infiltrate New Jersey and Ocean County," Freeholder Little said. "Their preparedness plan is intact and staff is being vetted on all the latest information should a local need arise."

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that that health experts believe is spread much like cold viruses.

There has only been one case in the United States was discovered to be a person- to-person transmission.

"Meanwhile, the new coronavirus is similar to influenza," Regenye said. "That's why the OCHD is recommending you protect yourself much like the flu should we experience an impact locally."

Here are some health tips the OCHD is urging you to follow at all times:

• Remember to wash your hands regularly,

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

• Stay home if you are sick and avoid sick people.

• Clean and disinfect regularly.

• Review and follow CDC travel advisories when planning travel. If you become ill after returning home to the United States, call your healthcare provider before going to a doctor’s office or emergency department of a hospital. They may want to place a mask on you before you enter the building to protect other people.

• Get a flu shot - it's not too late to be protected.

"The risk of the new coronavirus to the general public remains low at this time. The CDC is working hard to identify any new cases in the United States, but here in Ocean County we should all remain vigilant by taking the necessary precautions to prevent any further illness from spreading," Regenye said.

For up-to-date information on 2019-nCoV, there is a link on the upper right of the OCHD website that leads you to the NJDOH nCoV page.

You can also find additional information with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website or the New Jersey Department of Health website.

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