Everything you need to know about coronavirus
As COVID-19 spreads around the United States and the world, fear is also spreading and both may not let up for many more months. With the total confirmed cases closing in on the six-digit threshold, with potentially many thousands of other cases still unconfirmed, here are answers to some basic questions people may have about the virus, the disease and what relationship it has to weather.
Here is what we know and everything you need to start your smart preparations:
What is the coronavirus?
In humans, coronavirus is a respiratory infection that can occasionally take rare, fatal forms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses.
The current strain is a novel coronavirus, recognized as SARS-CoV-2, according to the National Institues of Health (NIH), and is a new variation that had not been previously identified. SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in an animal and spread to humans, similar to SARS. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Along with SARS-CoV-2, the SARS epidemic (2002 to 2003) and the MERS outbreak (2012 to 2015) were similar strains of coronavirus.
Where did the coronavirus originate?
COVID-19 first infected people in mainland China in early December. Some public health officials suspect that the outbreak may have started and spread at a meat market in Wuhan, China, known as the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market. Research published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases noted the epidemiological link with the market, with many of the first 41 people hospitalized with coronavirus having some connection to the market.
Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in the high-speed train station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveler from Wuhan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
In early February, researchers in Guangzhou, China, suggested that pangolins could be the possible source of the disease based on genetic comparison of the virus found in humans and the ant-eating animals, according to Nature.com.
Other research, published in The Lancet, has suggested that the virus may not have originated at the meat market, but rather somewhere else before being brought to the market. Daniel Lucey, an infectious-disease specialist at Georgetown University, told Science magazine that 13 of the original 41 cases did not have a link with the market and said it was possible that the very first cases may have spread undetected in November.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the CDC, symptoms of the coronavirus can include coughing, a fever and shortness of breath. Due to the incubation period, symptoms may not appear for two to 14 days after initial exposure. Symptoms of COVID-19 usually do not include a runny nose, health experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) have said.
The CDC also urges people to seek medical advice if you have been in close contact with a person known to have contracted COVID-19.
Who is most at-risk of the effects of COVID-19?
People in communities where the coronavirus is spreading are most at risk for the disease, while healthcare workers and close contacts of infected people are also considered to have elevated risks.
According to the NIAID, the virus can be seen in the yellow cells, emerging from the purple and blue cells. The image was from a scanning electron microscope.
On top of that, numbers have suggested that having preexisting conditions and being elderly have increased patients' mortality rates. In China, the China Center for Disease Control reported on Feb. 11 that 87 percent of cases were in people between the ages of 30 to 79.
A study of the first 425 cases observed in Wuhan revealed that no infections were found in children younger than 15 years of age. That led doctors to believe that either children are less likely to become infected, which would have important epidemiologic implications, or children's symptoms were so mild that their infections escaped detection, which has implications for the size of the denominator of total community infections, according to a report by The New England Journal of Medicine.
Is it possible to recover from COVID-19?
While the full immune response to COVID-19 is not fully understood yet, there have been numerous cases of reinfection. The current recovery timeline differs by country, but most include a quarantine period that lasts about two weeks in isolation.
While experts agree that it is certainly possible, and generally common, to recover fully from COVID-19, the behavior of the virus changes depending on the individual. More than 53,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered, according to statistics provided by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. And a 53-year-old woman in Singapore who made a full recovery spoke openly about what the experience was like, telling the BBC, that at its worst, "It felt like my lungs were going into overdrive."
How to protect yourself against COVID-19?
Experts are still working to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, but health officials say there are several basic steps people should take to help reduce the risk of illness.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Stay home when you are sick
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after using the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
Why is the coronavirus named COVID-19?
Previously known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, the disease caused by the current strain of the coronavirus was named COVID-19 on Feb. 11 in an announcement from the World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organization. (Naohiko Hatta/Pool Photo via AP)
"Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing," Tedros said. "It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks."
According to Tedros, the CO stands for corona, the V for virus, D for disease and the 19 to represent the year the outbreak was discovered.
The WHO explained that COVID-19 is the name of the disease while SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that caused the disease in humans. SARS-CoV-2 stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
"From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003," WHO officials said of the naming decision.
What is the weather's effect on the spread of COVID-19?
While it is still unclear how directly or potently the weather will impact the coronavirus, multiple experts have suggested that the virus could be thwarted by warm conditions, humidity and, most importantly, sunlight.
In February, Hong Kong University professor John Nicholls said in a leaked press conference that he expected the virus to "burn itself out" in about six months. He cited temperature, humidity and sunlight as the factors that viruses don't like. He even went as far to say that 86 degrees Fahrenheit will be the temperature at which the virus inactivates.
However, Nicholls and other experts around the world aren't convinced it will be that straightforward with this strain of the virus.
"I don’t know if it will bring an end, but I think it will reduce the impact of the spread," Elizabeth McGraw, who serves as director of Penn State University's Center of Infectious Disease Dynamics, said about the impact of temperature. "The bigger concern will be places in the Southern Hemisphere, countries like Australia and New Zealand, who will be heading into their winters in a few months' time. It could have the opposite impact on spread there."
How does coronavirus spread?
The virus spreads person-to-person and can be spread via a contaminated surface. According to the CDC, the virus is mainly spread "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes."
Although it is not the main way in which the virus spreads, a person can become infected with COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
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