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UNF scientists monitoring coronavirus

Nursing, biology professors teaching students about outbreak

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the new coronavirus spreads, scientists across the globe are working to understand the virus and figure out how to treat and prevent it.

That includes researchers at the University of North Florida, where professors with the School of Nursing and Department of Biology are closely watching the virus and studying it.

The global concern over a virus is not new. Many professors remember the same scares with the swine flu, bird flu and SARS. These virus are constantly changing and scientists, including those at UNF, are trying to stay ahead of them.

Doria Bowers, PhD, on Tuesday took News4Jax inside her virology lab at UNF, where she and students study and test viruses, some similar to the coronavirus.

“They mutate, mutate, mutate,” said Bowers, a biology professor at UNF.

The coronavirus is part of a family that has been around, but COVID-19 is a new version of it -- one that scientists and health experts are quickly working to understand. That way, they can treat it and fight it, potentially with a vaccine.

“Pay attention, listen to what the news is telling us, be aware, don’t panic,” Bowers said.

Lab tests can detect the presence of antibodies, and high-tech microscopes can help researchers find evidence of viruses. COVID-19 can be spread from person to person and animal to person.

“We are very aware of COVID-19,” said nursing student Chris Regalado, who just began working in an area hospital.

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UNF nursing students are learning about it and preparing to enter the medical field with pandemics like it.

So how do we protect ourselves?

“One of the biggest things we can do is wipe down our surfaces,” said Julia Baker-Townsend, APRN, an assistant professor at UNF.

Baker-Townsend said droplets from coughs and sneezes can live on surfaces and antibacterial wipes are key. That goes hand in hand with proper hygiene.

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and scrub in between your fingers and under your nails. Friction kills germs. Don’t forget to use a paper towel on the faucet and door handle, otherwise, it doesn’t help.

Hand sanitizer is a good alternative.

And those masks you see people wearing? UNF experts said if you’re not sick, you don’t need them.

“It’s not going to prevent something from coming in this way,” Baker-Townsend noted. “We are only using it for preventing the spread for going out this way.”

She said healthy people buying them could cause supply issues for those who need them.

Just like any other infection, sick people should stay home, cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it out immediately and avoid contact with others.

“It’s a respiratory virus, just keep your sneezing to yourself,” Bowers said. “There should not be any panic about this.”

There are three testing labs in the state of Florida, including one in Jacksonville. UNF professors said if you’re showing symptoms, don’t go to your primary care doctor or the emergency room. Instead, call the health department first. You don’t want to go in public and risk spreading the sickness to other people.

UNF professors added the seasonal flu is much more prevalent and kills a lot more people -- thousands annually across the United States. They pointed out influenza has a vaccine, but still spreads due to improper hygiene.


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