The number of infected people from this virus that originated in Wuhan, China is swiftly rising, as are the number of deaths from it. Currently there are 830 people who are sick with the virus and 25 who have died.
What is the coronavirus?
These viruses are known are known as a large family of viruses called zoonoses. What this means is that they can infect certain animals and spread to other animals. A coronavirus can potentially spread to humans, especially if the virus mutates.
When the virus first appeared, it was in people who had been around animals (including camels, cats and bats) and those who had some link to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, which suggested the virus emerged from animal sources; but now the virus is found to be spreading from person-to-person (most likely through coughing or sneezing).
What are the symptoms?
They can include a cough, possibly accompanied by fever and shortness of breath. Additionally, there can be non-respiratory problems like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms, which can range from little to no or severe, can occur in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.
How is it spread?
The specifics of the virus continue to be discovered, but what experts know so far is that it is usually spread through coughing or sneezing; these droplets containing large particles will usually remain suspended in the air for three to six feet before dissipating.
And since some coronaviruses have been found in infected people’s stool, it’s possible for it to be passed through fecal-oral contact.
Should you be worried?
The risk of contracting the virus is deemed to be low, said the CDC in a January 17, 2020 press release. In fact, You’re much more likely to contract the flu than any other virus, including this one. One in ten people get the flu each season.
There are currently five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. in travelers from Wuhan; as of yesterday, those are in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington state. Unless you’ve been in close contact with a person who actually has the virus (typically a traveler from Wuhan), you’re probably safe.
How serious is it?
Most people recover from the virus within days. But for others – especially those who are very young, elderly or with weakened immune systems – the virus can lead to complications like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Currently there are no approved antivirals for the virus, although there is a vaccine in the works. People with it need to treat the symptoms directly. For a person who becomes very ill, aggressive care in a hospital’s ICU can be lifesaving.
What’s the best way to avoid the virus?
Basic stay-healthy principles apply here: Wash your hands often; clean and disinfect frequently-used items and surfaces with something like this; cover your coughs and sneezes with your inner elbow or a tissue; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands. If you have a fever, stay home from work or school; and whenever possible, avoid people with respiratory tract infections (like someone with a runny nose, coughing or sneezing).
What you need to know if you fly
Three airports that receive most of the travelers from the Wuhan region – San Francisco International (SFO), John F. Kennedy International (JFK) and Los Angeles International (LAX) – immediately began “entry screening” using temperature scanners of those arriving from Wuhan, so that sick passengers could be identified. Soon after, Chicago O’Hare and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were added. Bur critics say this does little good; that screening could easily miss people who are infected yet have no symptoms. (If a passenger’s temperature is over 100 degrees F, they are pulled aside and sent for tests like a chest X-ray).
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to travel, or have traveled, to China.