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Coronavirus: What Do We Know and What Can Pharmacies Do?

Coronavirus: What Do We Know and What Can Pharmacies Do?

January 29, 2020

Inside: Here’s what you need to know to advise your patients on the new deadly coronavirus from China.

More than 4,500 cases of a new coronavirus from China have been reported, including at least 106 deaths. The World Health Organization has declared the virus a global health emergency. As reports proliferate across news channels and more cases emerge in the US, many of your patients will want to know what the virus means for them. Being up-to-date and providing education can increase your credibility among patients and build invaluable trust that affects retention and loyalty.

What Is the New Coronavirus?

As pharmacists already know, coronaviruses aren’t common among humans. They usually circulate among a variety of animals, but like the SARS and MERS viruses, sometimes a coronavirus infects humans. The current virus (2019-nCoV) is a novel strain originating in Wuhan, China, a manufacturing city home to some 11 million people. Like SARS, this virus is suspected to have come from wildlife in China’s markets but is now being transmitted person-to-person.

The virus causes respiratory illness, with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may occur in as little as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure, the CDC believes, based on the incubation period for MERS. There is no treatment for the virus. Mortality is relatively low at this point, sitting at about four percent. However, we’re only at the initial stages of the outbreak and it’s “a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment may change daily,” the CDC says.

What Can Pharmacies Do for Patients?

Although the virus doesn’t have a treatment, there are a few things you can do for your patients as the outbreak continues to grow and more cases emerge in the US.

Reassure them
As reports escalate, stocks tumble, and the 24-hour news cycle turns molehills into mountains, give anxious patients a cold splash of truth. Only five people in the US have been diagnosed, and all had recently returned from China, the New York Times reported. The CDC said that the risk to the general public is low, even though the threat is serious. More likely than the coronavirus is the common cold or the flu, which is still active and could peak in February, according to the CDC. Direct patients’ attention the more imminent and likely threat, urging them to get the flu shot if they haven’t and offering them OTC remedies for their colds.

Educate them
Educate patients on what is actually known about the virus. Be prepared to answer common questions and rebut misinformation. That will provide peace of mind and will associate you and your pharmacy as the place they can go for timely, reliable health education. In addition to education about the virus itself, educate patients on basic measures to prevent the spread of viruses. These CDC-recommended practices include:


The CDC says that the main transmission is likely “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.”

Treat them
If a patient comes in with symptoms of respiratory illness, provide relief by recommending OTC drugs or by directing them to see their physician.

But if you discover that a patient with flu-like symptoms has recently been to China or been in contact with someone who has, inform them of the situation (if they aren’t already aware) and direct them to the hospital.


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies 

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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