The emergence of a potentially deadly respiratory virus has prompted increased concern in the global health community. And close to home, Caldwell Medical Center in Princeton is taking steps to address potential concerns with the novel coronavirus.

Known by health experts as the 2019-nCoVm, the coronavirus appears to have originated in Wuhan, China, late last year and has spread across the world's most populous nation and around the globe to 28 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than a dozen confirmed cases in six states, including Illinois. The death toll in China has surpassed 1,000, though no deaths had been reported in the U.S. at press time.

Caldwell Medical Center is taking steps to coordinate with the Kentucky Department of Health offices to ensure that the local hospital is prepared in the unlikely event that it receives a patient who is infected with the virus. Infection Preventionist Mandy Smiley explains that the facility is always working to have the most current safety measures in place to prevent unnecessary person-to-person exposure.

"Like a basketball team, we are constantly training on the fundamentals," she said, offering advice on how to avoid the coronavirus and other pathogens. "Wash your hands, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and use proper cough and respiratory hygiene which help prevent the spread of any virus. At the end of the day, the best way to avoid infection is to prevent exposure in the first place."

In addition to these steps, the hospital invests in specialized equipment to prevent the spread of infection while providing patients with a humane experience. The hospital recently received state-of-the-art powered air purifying respirators as part of a grant. This equipment provides the medical team with an unprecedented level of safety, comfort and convenience while protecting them from harmful airborne particulates.

"The MAXAIR CAPR systems are great because they not only protect our employees, but they offer a more humanized interaction for the patient," Smiley explained of the respiratory device. "The front of the hood allows our medical team member's full face to be seen, which offers a more comfortable interaction than when a half-face mask is worn and our patients cannot read our expressions.

"If we were ever to have to address an outbreak of any kind, this type of equipment would be essential in containing any unnecessary spread of infection."

Caldwell Medical Center CEO Dan Odegaard offers reassurance to anyone in the community concerned over the spread of coronavirus and urges residents to not be panicked by some media coverage.

"It is important to take outbreaks like this seriously, but it is also important for the general population not to overreact or allow sensational news stories to create unneeded anxiety," he said. "I want to assure everyone we are taking the coronavirus very seriously and doing everything in our power to prepare for an outbreak if that were to occur. We will do everything we can to keep the local population informed and up to date on any concerns of infection in our area."

Joe Duncan, a hospital spokesman, said that when a story like this becomes a major focus in the news, it can take the attention off other health risks much more likely to affect the average person in day-to-day life.

"You are still more likely to experience serious complications from the flu, pneumonia or sepsis in our area today than you are the coronavirus," Duncan said. "We encourage everyone to take your health seriously and get your flu shot, check your blood pressure, get your annual exams."

So far in Kentucky, the flu has killed 41 people this season.

Duncan advises anyone who has recently returned from China or had contact with someone who has to monitor his or her health. Those experiencing fever, cough or difficulty breathing should:

• Seek medical care right away. Call ahead to inform the doctor or emergency room about your recent travel and symptoms before arriving.

• Avoid contact with others.

• Do not travel.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water is not available.