Coronavirus, now named COVID-19, is making headlines around the world. From statistics about the rapidly spreading illness to tips for travelers, this hot issue is at the top of most news reports. The American Dental Association has now released an informational handout for dentists.

The informational handout, which can be downloaded here, covers strategies for helping prevent the transmission of suspected respiratory disease in the dental healthcare setting and also answers frequently asked questions related to the virus, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronavirus Basics

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in animals and people, causing the common cold, and sometimes, more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.

To date, the coronavirus has led to tens of thousands of cases of respiratory illness in China, and infections have been reported in many other countries as well, although the vast majority of them have been associated with travel from Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected.

Due to the growing number of cases and reach of the disease, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern" on Jan. 30. The next day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary classified it as a U.S. public health emergency.

But it is important to note that the immediate health risk from the coronavirus to the general American public is considered low at this time, according to the CDC.

What Dentists Need to Know

The precautions are not so different than flu season preventative measures. To help prevent the transmission of any kind of respiratory infection, dental practices should adhere to standard respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette infection control measures, such as adhering to excellent hand hygiene, providing tissues and no-touch receptacles to throw away used tissues and offering face masks to patients who are coughing. Practices also should follow routine cleaning and disinfection strategies used during flu season.

If any member of your clinical team is assessing a patient with a flu-like or other respiratory illness, they should wear a disposable surgical face mask, nonsterile gloves, gown and eye protection to prevent possible exposure.

Note: Because recommendations for COVID-19 could change as more information becomes available about the disease, the ADA suggests checking for updates on the CDC's coronavirus infection control page for health care professionals.