VANCOUVER -- A virus that has made hundreds ill in China has made landfall in Canada.

Last week, officials announced the first case in our continent had been confirmed in Washington state, and on Tuesday, the first case in B.C. was made public.

So far, there are few cases in Canada, but airports are now asking travellers with flu-like symptoms to report them to Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine officers.

Arrivals signs now include this message, and posters went up last week at Vancouver International Airport. For now at least, health officials say the risk to Canadians is low, but they're monitoring the spread with help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

In light of the outbreak, CTV News Vancouver asked an emergency physician what the public should know about the virus.

Should travellers using airports be concerned?

Not specifically, according to Dr. Michael Curry, a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia.

"With an illness that originated in Asia, and spreading around the world, airports are playing a role in it," he said.

But he added that viruses like this can spread in almost any environment.

"I think a children's daycare or a supermarket is just as much risk as an airport."

What can the public do to prevent the spread?

Practice good hygiene, Curry says. Cover your mouth, wash your hands and consider avoiding crowded spaces.

"We don't have a vaccine to prevent against coronavirus infection. We don't have medicines to prevent it," he said.

He was asked whether N95 or N95 masks would help, especially if a traveller is heading to China.

"The masks can help reduce the risk, but they are awkward," he said.

"I think this will probably change into a disease similar to an influenza outbreak. I would take the same precautions."

What if you can't avoid problem areas?


Curry said to try to keep your body healthy as much as possible. Choose a healthy foods, get enough rest and keep hydrated.

"Keep your diet and immune system in the best shape possible."

Are we prepared for another outbreak like SARS or H1N1?


"For an H1N1-type outbreak, I think we are reasonably prepared," Curry said. "We have an influenza vaccine."

But if coronavirus morphs into a SARS-like outbreak – Curry says it's too early to tell if it will – he says we're "woefully unprepared."

He said he was in Toronto in 2003, and saw that it had a major impact on the health care system in Ontario. Hospital staff were potentially infected and couldn't go in to work, and patients were scared to go to the hospital.

Precautions were taken including the isolation of patients – something hospitals could afford to do due to a dip in patients coming in.

But, he says, "from what I see here, Western Canada, we aren't ready for anything like SARS."

Curry says preliminary data suggests this coronavirus has a relatively low death rate, like serious cases of the flu, including H1N1.

MERS, another coronavirus, and SARS had mortality rates between 20 and 40 per cent.

"Fortunately the preliminary data doesn't look as worrisome as some of the other coronaviruses, and often the preliminary data exaggerates how serious an illness is because only the sickest people get tested. People with minor illnesses don't get tested and we don't identify those patients."

But people should still be cautious. It's early in the infection and tracking of the virus, and the rate of the spread is cause for concern.

"It's probably something we are all going to have to deal with in the near future," he warned.

Symptoms of coronavirus and what to do

Symptoms of the new type of coronavirus vary person to person, but often include coughing, sneezing, a sore throat and shortness of breath.

Patients may experience body aches and chills.

Health Canada says a runny nose and headache are common symptoms, as is fever and "a general feeling of being unwell."

Infants may experience gastrointestinal disease.

If you think you have coronavirus or are exhibiting cold symptoms, stay home to help protect others.

Avoid close contact, cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, wash hands often and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jim Fong