Recently, the world news was flooded with reports of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (nCoV) in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province. As the outbreak continues to spread and represents a risk outside China, on January 31, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus as a global emergency.

It was on December 31, 2019 that the WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. One week later, on January 7, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus. The new virus belongs to the large family of coronaviruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold, and more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). However, it did not match any other known virus. This has raised serious concern because when a new virus appears, the severity of its effect on people cannot be generally understood or measured.

This new virus has been temporarily named “2019-nCoV.” It causes respiratory illness of varying severity. Infectious diseases caused by CoV must be extensively documented using the correct medical codes. Comprehensive documentation requires a clear record of symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment modalities offered. Medical billing and coding companies can help physicians treating this condition with accurate documentation.

Latest reports (as of January 31, 2020) say that there are about 9800 confirmed cases of nCoV in mainland China. The death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak increased to 213 in China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 98 international cases has been reported in 18 other countries, but no deaths.The potency and movement of the virus has rallied the cooperation of the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies to effectively combat it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), corona viruses are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of common colds. Like other viruses, nCoV originated from animals. They are called coronaviruses because under a microscope, the viruses have crown-like spikes protruding from their surfaces. Such spikes affect the way a virus binds onto a host cell and infects it. These are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. People in China infected with nCoV either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city which sold live or newly slaughtered animals.

Symptoms of nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or after 14 days of exposure. One of the common symptoms associated with this infectious disease is pneumonia. Persons who got infected are reported to suffer other respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, breathing difficulties, sneezing, a runny nose, fatigue, sore throat and exacerbated asthma. In severe cases there can be organ failure. Severe infections are more common in people with heart or lung diseases, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.

Coronavirus infections can be diagnosed through a physical exam and a complete medical history and review of symptoms. The virus responsible can be diagnosed by taking a sample of respiratory fluids, such as mucus from the nose, or blood. As there is no cure for this virus infection, treatment includes over-the-counter medications (like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and fever), taking adequate rest and avoiding over-exertion, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding smoking/smoky areas and using a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer. Recovery of a patient will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those people who suffered death are known to have been already in poor health.

Billing and coding for this infectious disease could be complex as there are several rules related to reporting the condition correctly. Infectious disease specialists must make sure that they correctly diagnose the symptoms of nCoV and report it using the right medical codes. Medical billing outsourcing services provided by reputable medical billing companies can help physicians use the correct codes for their billing purposes. ICD-10 codes used to signify nCoV diagnosis are –

  • B34.2 – Coronavirus infection, unspecified
  • B97.2 – Coronavirus as the cause of diseases classified elsewhere
    • B97.21 – SARS-associated coronavirus as the cause of diseases classified elsewhere
    • B97.29 – Other coronavirus as the cause of diseases classified elsewhere

People in poor health are at maximum risk of getting infected from nCoV. A key concern is the range of severity of symptoms – some people appear to suffer only mild illness while others are becoming severely ill. This makes it more difficult to establish the true numbers infected and the extent of transmission between people.

There is no vaccine available that can prevent the spread of this new coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends people to take simple precautions in order to reduce exposure to and transmission of the virus. Some of the top prevention strategies include – washing hands thoroughly and frequently (with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap), covering the mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing, avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough, avoiding direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals, avoiding consumption of raw or under cooked animal products and avoiding contact with people displaying symptoms. People who are living in or traveling to nCoV outbreak areas should consider wearing masks to prevent the spread of virus.

Just as for other infectious diseases, accurate and timely documentation of diagnosis and treatment procedures is vital in this regard. Medical coding tasks can be outsourced to a reliable physician billing company that offers the services of AAPC-certified coding specialists to ensure correct and timely medical coding, billing and claims submission.