Coronavirus continues to dominate the news as the epidemic spreads throughout China and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed cases in the United States. The first diagnosis of this novel (new) coronavirus named 2019-nCoV was in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and many nations have put restrictions in place for travel to and from China.
The confirmed cases in the United States currently are limited to Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois; however, the CDC is investigating potential cases in several other states, so more confirmations may be forthcoming.
On January 30, 2020, the CDC confirmed the first person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus, between a husband and wife in Illinois. Subsequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus an international public health emergency, only the sixth time it’s done so. The CDC currently advises travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2019 novel coronavirus.
1. The 2019 novel coronavirus spreads from person to person, though not necessarily through actual contact. The CDC continues to research exactly how 2019-nCoV spreads, but does say it spreads from person to person. At this time, that doesn’t necessarily mean actual contact. With the previous outbreaks of similar conditions MERS and SARS, it was believed those viruses spread person to person when an infected person coughed or sneezed and virus particles were transmitted to others, much like how influenza and other respiratory viruses spread.
2. Symptoms range from mild to severe. The common cold is also spread by a coronavirus. For some patients, coronavirus symptoms mimic those of a common cold, while others experience the same symptoms that accompany a severe respiratory infection. These include runny nose, fever, cough, sore throat, and shortness of breath. In some cases, the symptoms are so severe they require hospitalization and have resulted in death. Right now, the CDC believes symptoms can appear within two days or wait as long as 14 days after exposure.
3. Treatment options are limited to addressing the symptoms.
As research into 2019-nCoV continues, there is no specific antiviral treatment available or recommended to fight the virus at this time. Instead, patients infected with the virus should receive appropriate treatment to help relieve symptoms, as well as restrict any activity outside the home and avoid crowded areas in order to prevent transmission.
4. There is no vaccine for 2019-nCoV infection. Because there currently is no vaccine to protect against 2019-nCoV, the best prevention against the virus is to avoid exposure. In addition, to help prevent the spread of this and other viruses, the CDC recommends washing your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water are not available.
Also, always use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze, and immediately discard the tissue. If you are sick, stay at home until you are well. Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with anyone else who is sick, and keep washing your hands.
While many stores are selling out of protective face masks, the CDC does not recommend them for coronavirus prevention. Instead, officials emphasize hand washing as more effective protection from this and any other virus.
5. The source of 2019 novel coronavirus is linked to animals, but not confirmed as the cause. Because many patients in the Wuhan, China, outbreak were linked to a large seafood and animal market, it’s possible the virus originated in an animal source. However, that cannot be confirmed until the results of analysis of the virus’ genetic tree become available. Other coronavirus that originated from animals include SARS (civet cats) and MERS (camels).
6. Speak to your doctor if you recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or other affected areas. If you returned from Wuhan, China, or other affected areas, or you think you came in contact with someone who could be infected, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Call your healthcare provider right away, and he or she will coordinate with your local public health department and the CDC to see if you should be tested.
For the most recent information about 2019 novel coronavirus, check the CDC website for updates, including the number of confirmed cases and advice for travelers.