What Is a Coronavirus?
The coronavirus is a big family of pathogens. Some of them cause mild illnesses like the common cold. Others can cause fatal infections. A coronavirus gets its name from how it looks. Under an electron microscope, these pathogens exhibit spikes that resemble the angles of a crown. There are many coronaviruses that only infect animals. Some evolve in their animal hosts to infect humans. The type that infects humans was first identified in the 1960s. Since then, seven human-infecting types of coronavirus have been identified, including the new Coronavirus also known as COVID-2019.
For the latest news updates, facts, and resources, please visit the MedicineNet Coronavirus COVID-19 Health Center.
What Is Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)?
On Jan. 7, 2020, Chinese health authorities announced that they had isolated the virus spreading in Wuhan. This novel coronavirus was named initially referred to as 2019-nCoV and was also called Wuhan coronavirus because the first infected people came from Wuhan City, Hubei Province in China, a city of more than 11 million people and a major transportation hub. On February 11, 2020 the disease was officially named COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, officially named SARS-CoV-2. This virus resembles other serious human coronavirus types MERS and SARS in that all belong to the “beta” subgrouping of virus. The CDC notes that MERS and SARS both began as infections in bats before mutating to infect humans.
What Are the Symptoms of Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)?
The symptoms of this virus illness resemble other respiratory infections. Infected people may experience coughing and fever, as well as shortness of breath. Some patients have had vomiting, diarrhea, and similar stomach symptoms. The most severe cases have caused pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death. According to the CDC, some infected people have few or no symptoms, whereas others may be severely ill or die from the disease. Initial estimates suggest symptoms begin after exposure from 2 – 14 days with an average of 5 days.
How Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Spreads
Health experts widely agree that many infected patients had some association with a large live animal/seafood market in Wuhan City, suggesting the disease was first spread from animal-to-human contact. Human-to-human transfer was soon confirmed in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, the United States, and eventually around the world. The first person to be infected within the United States was an Illinois man in his 60s. His wife became infected while traveling in Wuhan, China. The virus spreads mainly from person to person by droplets produced by coughing and/or sneezing. Occasionally, it is transferred to people when they touch a surface contaminated by virus-containing droplets; some people can spread the infection without showing symptoms.
How Is Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Treated?
As a newly identified virus, COVID-2019 has no specified treatment. Supportive care is the treatment; a large number of patients (about 16 – 20%) need hospitalization to obtain appropriate care. Work is underway to develop antiviral medications to combat the illness. Meanwhile the CDC says that health care workers should strive to treat the symptoms of an infection through supportive care. Researchers are also trying to develop a vaccine against the virus.
Is There a Vaccine for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)?
So far, no vaccine has been developed for this newly discovered virus. On Jan. 28, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that the National Institute of Health has begun to collaborate on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Early trials have begun, but it will likely take a year or longer before a safe, proven vaccine can be released to the public, according to HHS officials. The National Health Commission in China is collaborating with various health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to further study how severe and how contagious this virus may be. By sharing data and continuing to study the illness, health researchers worldwide hope to contribute to the development of a vaccine.
Is the Virus Likely to Mutate?
This is a class of virus that is known to mutate easily. Prior mutations led to the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, in which a virus native to civet cats mutated to spread the illness to humans. In Saudi Arabia in 2012, a coronavirus that infected camels mutated to become infectious in humans, leading to the MERS outbreak. Currently, researchers have not discovered the original source of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)coronavirus, but they suspect it came from wild animals killed and sold for food.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Based on advice gathered from previous coronavirus outbreaks, the WHO offers general guidance about how to prevent COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus infection:
- Keep your hands clean frequently with either soap and water or an alcohol-based rub
- Cover your mouth anytime you cough or sneeze. Throw away used tissues.
- Avoid spending time around people who have a fever or cough.
- If you show symptoms of the COVID-19 virus (cough, fever, shortness of breath), tell your doctor right away, and fill your doctor in on your recent travel history.
- If you visit an animal market where a coronavirus outbreak is suspected, avoid animals and any surfaces they may have touched.
- Make sure any animal product you use in meals is fully cooked. Handle raw meat carefully.
In addition, the CDC recommends you avoid visiting areas where there is an outbreak of this infection and to avoid any close contact with anyone who has visited the outbreak area or shows signs of the infection in the last 14 days. Social distancing of at least 6 feet is also recommended.
How Have Chinese Authorities Responded?
Authorities from China confirmed the identity of the new virus on Jan. 7, 2020, and began working with the WHO on the same day to learn more about the virus. Chinese authorities have reacted to the virus outbreak with an unprecedented lockdown of Hubei province. The travel restrictions affect millions of people in cities, airports, public transportation, workplaces, and schools have been shut down to prevent further contagion. As of 3/17/2020, the number of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has markedly reduced and the Chinese are dismantling their emergency hospitals.
How Has the World Responded?
Countries around the world have taken steps to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. Screening is taking place at airports, events are being canceled, schools are closing, public health officials are urging people to avoid public spaces as much as possible, and self-isolation/self-quarantines and social distancing practices are taking place. With the large outbreaks that have followed in South Korea, Europe (especially Italy) and now the US, officials are hoping that the practices being put in place will help educate the public and slow the spread of this emerging disease.
For the latest news updates, facts, and resources, please visit the MedicineNet Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Health Center.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Mikael Häggström, M.D.
- Getty Images
- China CDC
- Getty Images
- CDC: “Coronavirus: Symptoms and diagnosis,” “Human coronavirus types,” “Transcript of 2019 novel coronavirus response telebriefing,” “Transcript of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) update,” “2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China.”
- Medscape: “Wuhan virus: What clinicians need to know.”
- Medscape News UK: “UK to monitor some flights from China for signs of coronavirus.”
- WHO: “Coronavirus,” “”Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) advice for the public,” “WHO, China leaders discuss next steps in battle against coronavirus outbreak.”
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