There’s a new virus that emerged in late 2019, often called coronavirus, and there’s worldwide concern about how easily it’s spread. While scientists and public health officials are still intensively studying this respiratory illness, there’s a lot known about it already, including how to prevent getting it yourself.
What Is Coronavirus?
COVID-19 is the official name for the new respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, a particular type of virus that originated in China. Most people who get it experience a mild illness but it can be deadly.
You may remember SARS and MERS in the news a few years ago; this is from the same family of viruses. Scientists and public health professionals are still doing research about transmission, symptoms, and death/recovery rates.
Early reporting suggests that age and underlying conditions are a factor in the death rate. The incubation rate appears to be about 14 days. According to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control, 80% of cases are reported to be mild, and the death rate is roughly 2.3%.
Symptoms and Treatment
People with this virus have symptoms that include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. In the most serious cases, the virus can cause pneumonia.
Most people can stay home and rest until recovery. Over-the-counter medications can help with reducing the fever and making patients feel more comfortable. There are no specific medications known to treat this virus right now, although scientists and researchers are working on it.
For those with severe shortness of breath or complications like pneumonia, hospitalization may be necessary. At this time, a diagnosis of COVID-19 can only be diagnosed by a doctor. There is a test kit available from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but it’s only available to qualified labs and not your doctor’s office or hospital at this time.
The virus is passed from one person to the next, much like the common cold. Small amounts of virus are present in droplets expelled by a person who coughs or sneezes; if they cough or sneeze into their hands and then touch say, a doorknob, they could leave a small trace of virus behind although coronaviruses aren’t known to live for a long time on surfaces.
That’s why taking ordinary precautions just like you would during cold and flu season are so important for prevention. Stay home if you feel sick. Wash your hands regularly, and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
If you do feel sick and suspect you’ve been exposed to coronavirus, call your doctor’s office for guidance. The CDC does not currently recommend wearing facemasks as protection unless you are diagnosed with COVID-19 or you’re a healthcare worker or caregiver exposed to patients who may have it.
The overwhelming majority of cases are in China where the illness was first identified. A few cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., and most of those are in people who have recently traveled to affected areas in China. The current risk among people in the US is low. A good resource for up-to-date and reliable information is the CDC website.