What You Should Know About The Coronavirus

Public fear is at an all time high ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern which means it’s time to get informed on everything there is to know about 2019-nCoV.

So far, the U.S. has issued a Level 4 travel advisory (the highest level) to its citizens warning them not to travel to China and China has placed quarantine-like restrictions on the city of Wuhan, as well as some surrounding cities. Despite their best efforts, the virus has spread internationally to countries around the world, including Canada and the United States. To get better informed on the topic and how to protect yourself, here is the most recent information on everything you should know about the coronavirus…

1. What is a Coronavirus?

According to WHO, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to more serious diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). These viruses are zoonotic which means they can be transmitted between animals and people.

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans. There are several known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. After investigation, it was learned that the SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and the MERS-CoV was transmitted from dromedary camels to humans.

2. Where Did It Start?

It all began in late December when Chinese authorities reported a group of cases of a viral pneumonia to WHO. It was learned early on that many of the patients had come into contact or had some link to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan which suggests an animal to person spread, leading scientists to believe it is a coronavirus. Not long after it became clear this virus can spread from person-to-person after more people fell ill who had not come into contact with animal markets. It has since been dubbed 2019-nCoV by scientists.


3. How Does it Spread?

Some coronaviruses can be transmitted between people, says WHO. This typically occurs after close contact with an infected person. Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that it’s still unclear how easily or sustainably this virus can spread between people.

For the most part, the spreading of viruses between people happens during close contact (about 6-feet) and occurs primarily through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. “It’s currently unclear if a person can get 2019-nCoV by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” writes the CDC.

The CDC also notes that with most respiratory cases the virus is through to be most contagious when a person is at their most symptomatic (the sickest), but with the 2019-nCoV, there have been reports of people spreading the virus when they have no symptoms at all. Until more is known, the best thing to do is regularly wash your hands, avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes, and avoid anyone who is sick.

4. How Far Has it Spread?

Since this is an ongoing situation the numbers are constantly evolving and will likely change, but as of Jan. 31 there have been six confirmed cases in the U.S. Two patients in California, one in Chicago, Washington, Arizona, and most recently, Illinois. All of the confirmed cases are in people who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China which is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

China and the U.S. aren’t the only countries battling this virus. Thanks to international travel, the virus has spread to the following countries: Germany, France, Finland, India, Italy, Canada, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Australia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Philippines, Russia, Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. There have been over 9,800 cases confirmed worldwide and 213 deaths as of Jan. 31.

5. What’s the Impact So Far?

Thankfully, most countries (including the U.S. and Canada) have been swift to act and put measures into place to prevent any further spread of the virus. There are health screenings at major airports in the US for people traveling from Wuhan and in China there are travel restrictions in effect.

“While person-to-person spread among close contacts has been detected with this virus, at this time the virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States,” writes the CDC.

6. SARS vs. Coronavirus?

There are similarities between SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and 2019-nCoV, but there are also many differences. Like many other disease outbreaks in recent years, both of these viruses came from animals. In the case of SARS, the disease spread from bats to civet cats, a delicacy in parts of China. Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) was the same in that it spread from camels to humans

Sars originated China back in 2002 and spread to 27 countries. In the end it infected 8,000 people and killed 700. This virus spread quickly, but ended just as fast. Mers emerged in 2012 and to this date has resulted in 2,500 cases. While it didn’t affect as many people, it’s more deadly than SARS as it’s claimed 850 lives to date.

Similar to Sars and Mers, the 2019-nCoV virus showcases symptoms that make it easy to identify and there is no vaccine.

7. What are the Symptoms?

The WHO list some of the common signs of an infection as “respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.” However, some people are also reporting nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most people are able to recover within a few days, says Health Harvard. However, just like with any other illness, people with a weakened immune system, the young, and the elderly are all at a higher risk for a more serious infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

In more severe cases, an infection may lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. If you’ve recently travelled to Wuhan, China and begin experiencing any of these symptoms, avoid contact with others and contact a healthcare professional.

8. What’s the Incubation Period?

The Government of Canada website says the current available information indicates that symptoms may present themselves up to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Experts are still trying to determine how long an infected person is contagious and how the virus is transmitted.

9. Is There a Vaccine?

Since the 2019 Novel Coronavirus infection is a new strain of virus, a vaccine has not be developed. According to WHO, it can take a number of years for a new vaccine to be developed. People who received the flu vaccine this year are not protected against coronaviruses. The flu is caused by two main types of viruses: influenza A and influenza B.

10. How is it Treated?

A specific treatment plan has not been developed for any disease caused by a novel coronavirus, but scientists are working hard to better understand the virus. The Chinese health authorities have posted its full genome in international databases. Because there are currently no approved antivirals for this coronavirus, any treatment a person receives will be to support their symptoms.

Many of the symptoms associated with an infection can be treated, so treatment is assessed on a patient by patient basis. Most people with a common coronavirus illness will recover on their own. The important thing to note is that in most cases there is supportive care available for infected people and in most cases it is quite effective.

11. How to Prevent It

The standard recommendations to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV is to reduce exposure and transmission with basic hand and respiratory hygiene, as well as safe food practices. This includes regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking foods, particularly meat and eggs.

Try to avoid close contact with anyone who is showing signs of a respiratory illnesses, such as coughing and sneezing. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. If you are sick, stay home.

12. Should You Be Worried?

This is probably the question on most people’s mind — should I be worried about getting the virus? The short answer is, unless you’ve been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus, which right now would be anyone who’s recently travelled to Wuhan, China, and actually has the virus, then you’re safe. However, the CDC notes that outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern.

The CDC lists it as a very serious public health threat. “The fact that this virus has caused severe illness and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning, but it’s unclear how the situation in the United states will unfold at this time.” If you’re wondering what your risk level is, that is dependent on exposure. Some people are at a higher risk for infection, such as those who are in healthcare caring for 2019-nCoV patients or other close contacts. However, the general American public are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, therefore the immediate health risk is considered low.