The novel coronavirus has spread throughout the world like a tragic wildfire. Since January, the world has largely been aware of the outbreak and eventual epidemic, but now the World Health Organization has officially called it a global pandemic.
It’s not time to panic, but it is time to take action–for your health and those around you. The first step is to familiarize yourself with the virus and what you can do to stay healthy. We’re here to help you sort through the noise and answer all the questions that must be going through your head right now.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of hundreds of different coronaviruses. Some of them can cause colds or other mild respiratory (nose, throat, and lung) illnesses. Other coronaviruses can cause more serious diseases in humans, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Coronaviruses are named for their appearance: Under the microscope, the viruses look like they are covered with pointed structures that surround them like a corona, or crown.
They are zoonotic, meaning they can live in animals or in humans. While they are common in different animals, an animal with a coronavirus will occasionally infect humans. The 2019 novel coronavirus is one of seven members of this family known to infect humans, and the third in the past three decades to jump from animals to humans.
What’s the difference between coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses. SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the germ. COVID-19 is the official name of the disease you get from the germ.
WHERE DID THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS COME FROM?
The novel coronavirus disease was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person, according to the CDC.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE CORONAVIRUS VS. THE FLU?
The most common symptoms include:
- Cough (can be a dry cough)
- Shortness of breath
Some may experience:
- Aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Often comes on suddenly
- Children and seniors are at high risk of the flu
COVID-19 symptoms can start off mild (like the flu) and may appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure. Four days is the average incubation period; the time between coming in contact with the virus and showing symptoms.
COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than the flu. According to the World Health Organization as of March 6, COVID-19’s crude mortality ratio is between three- to four percent, whereas seasonal influenza is well below 0.1 percent. The mortality rate appears to be less common in children and most common in adults.
How does it spread?
Coronaviruses are thought to be spread through respiratory droplets, which can be expelled from the body through coughing and sneezing. However, there is evidence that it can be transmitted simply through breathing.
It is passed from person to person. Community spread, people have become infected with the virus in a particular area without knowing from whom or how they became infected, is being seen in Washington and New York.
Although it may not be the primary way the virus spreads, it may be possible that one can contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, according to the CDC.
How can I avoid catching the coronavirus?
To prevent infection, the World Health Organization recommends regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Be aware that everything you touch throughout the day could have the germ on it so clean those on a regular basis with a disinfectant. Be sure to follow good hygiene practices including sneezing directly into a tissue then disposing of the tissue immediately.
If possible, avoid congregating in large groups. Specialists are recommending that people avoid shaking hands and sharing food. It is important to exercise your best judgement in all circumstances.
If you are in a high-risk group (over 60, have preexisting lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system) you should seek treatment if you get sick. COVID-19 can escalate quickly from cough to full-on pneumonia. Make sure to call your doctor or clinic before going in so they can give you appropriate instructions.
If you’re not in a high-risk group and you feel unwell, it’s better to self-isolate at home and fast so your body can heal. Going to the doctor can put more people at risk, so don’t go to the ER unless you’re really experiencing life-threatening symptoms.
Finally, stay up to date with the latest information that pertains to your local area. Officials will be sharing helpful information if there is an outbreak near you.
Can children catch the coronavirus?
Yes, children can become infected with the virus. However, it seems to spare children with a lower-than-average mortality rate of approximately 2.3 percent. Children and their families should still take the same precautions. If a child is infected, they can show minor signs of the disease which can resemble the flu and then infect others that eventually experience more severe symptoms.
Can pets spread the virus?
“No. There is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the World Health Organization.
The South China Morning Post reported the dog of a COVID-19 patient had a “low-level infection and experts unanimously conclude human-to-animal transmission.” However, it did not appear to show signs of illness.
Why a 14-day quarantine?
According to the CDC, “Quarantine is usually established for the incubation period of the communicable disease, which is the span of time during which people have developed illness after exposure.” Fourteen days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses, so that is what the CDC has set as the quarantine period.
The CDC guidelines for when it is OK to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:
- The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.
- The patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.
Should I be wearing a mask?
No. Masks are not necessary for healthy people in the general population, according to the CDC and the U.S. surgeon general. Masks were developed to keep an individual’s germs inside the mask and to prevent them from spreading it, not to prevent people from contracting it.
The U.S. Surgeon General tweeted, “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #coronavirus, but if healthcare professionals can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
The CDC does recommend some people wear masks including patients showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19, medical professionals treating coronavirus patients, and anyone living with or interacting with people infected with the virus.
If you do wear a mask, you have to dispose of it after one use. They cannot be reused.
When will a vaccine be available?
While many talented healthcare professionals are working on a vaccine, it is estimated to be at least a year before one will be developed, tested, and approved for use.
Will warm weather stop the outbreak of the novel coronavirus?
The CDC is still in the process of learning about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19. At this time, it is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of the virus. However, other viruses like the common cold and flu don’t stop infecting people during the warmer months, they just spread less.
How should I prepare?
Supply chain experts say there is no reason to stockpile beyond the recommended 14-day emergency supply of food and necessities, which generally include:
- 1 gallon of water per person per day (If you have pets, account for a little extra each day.)
- Canned and dry foods
- Frozen meats
- Extra household supplies like toilet paper, paper towels
- If you have children, get extra diapers
- Any required prescriptions or over-the-counter medications
If you get sick, it will be good to have these things handy so you don’t have to go to the store and potentially infect others.
Will vitamin C stop me from catching the coronavirus?
No. There is no evidence that vitamin C supplements will make you immune to the virus. Ensuring you have sufficient vitamin C in your diet is essential to your health in many ways, but it will not keep you from contracting the virus.
Can I contract the virus by touching a package such as food packaging or toy boxes from China or another affected region?
It depends. The World Health Organization says that it is safe to touch packages or letters because the virus survives poorly on those kinds of surfaces. However, the virus can survive for as long as nine days on metal, glass or plastic surfaces.
The virus needs a combination of environmental conditions such as temperature, lack of UV exposure and humidity, according to a report by Live Science. Factoring in the shipping time and environment, it is highly unlikely that the virus would survive but it’s always best to exercise your best judgment.
Stay up-to-date with the CDC’s latest number of reported cases and deaths in the U.S. and a map of the outbreak. Visit coronavirus.gov for the latest information on the virus from the CDC. Twitter and YouTube are also excellent resources for accessing the most up-to-date information shared by officials.