Coronavirus – Everything You Need to Know and Then Some

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Nowadays, it would be difficult to find someone who has not heard about the coronavirus. Loads of information and misinformation is swarming about as scientists across the globe grapple with how to deal with and arrest it. Here is your guide to what you need to know.

The new coronavirus, which is also known as 2019-nCoV, is an upper respiratory virus that has grabbed headlines globally for its virulence, lethalness and fast-spreading pace. Its symptoms typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Rooted in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, the virus has spread to more than 17,300 people in 24 countries across the world. As of this writing, there are eleven confirmed cases in the United States.

The novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV has been categorized by WHO (World Health Organization) as a pandemic — a new disease strain spreads beyond a local epidemic into a large regional or worldwide event. Examples of 21st century pandemics include SARS, H1N1 and MERS.

How did 2019-nCoV come to be?

Scientists believe the genome sequence of 2019-nCoV were 96% identical to coronaviruses found in bats. In other words, bats are the likely hosts of the disease. Interestingly, it is supposed that SARS developed from bats, although it spread to civet cats before infecting humans during the 2003 outbreak. Most of the initial cases occurred in people who worked at or visited the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, where a variety of wild animals were sold.

Usually coronavirus spreads from mammal to mammal and it is rare that animal coronaviruses infect people. It has happened before. What’s particularly concerning about 2019-nCoV is it has become a human-to-human transmitted virus.

Typically, human-to-human transmission occurs when people are among close contacts, usually within 6 feet of one another. It spreads mainly through respiratory droplets which occur when a person coughs and/or sneezes. This is similar to how flu and other respiratory germs are spread. At present, it is not clear if a person can get 2019-nCoV by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

An insidious point about 2019-nCoV is there are reports of the virus spreading from an infected patient with no symptoms to a close contact. This differs from most respiratory viruses when typically, people are thought to be the most contagious when they are at their sickest. Now one understands the fear of the coronavirus and the monitoring of travelers for fevers or placing those travelers originating from China in quarantine.

I emphasize here how easily viruses can spread from person-to-person albeit with variability. Some viruses are highly contagious (measles: remember that from last year?) while others are less so. Scientists globally are working 24/7 to learn more about the transmissibility and severity of 2019-nCoV.

Most people present initially without any symptoms. In 2002, the virus mutated in China and was the causative agent of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) with a 10% mortality of those infected. In 2012, it resurfaced as the cause of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) with a 30% mortality rate. Here, camels played a role.

Interesting side note: the virus remains active up to 48 hours on contact surfaces and up to 7 days in carpets.

How does one protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronavirus?

Getting the flu shot is the first line of defense. The coronavirus differs from the flu virus which is a serious virus itself. Yes, there has been a lot of flu even with the flu vaccine this year. The vaccine nonetheless mitigates the flu and symptoms are less severe.

Practice good health habits. These include (and are not limited to):