The dawn of 2020 ushered in many newsworthy headlines, but few have turned the heads of the masses as sharply as the arrival of a novel coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. In late 2019, Chinese authorities identified the new virus, which has resulted in scores of confirmed cases in China, and additional cases identified in a growing number of international locations.
Both the World Health Organization and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have closely monitored the coronavirus, which was named COVID-19 in mid-February 2020. The public is understandably concerned, but educating oneself about COVID-19 and coronaviruses in general can assuage some fears.
What is a coronavirus?
Medical News Today reports that coronaviruses typically affect the respiratory tracts of mammals. Coronaviruses are responsible for between 15 and 30 percent of common colds. They're also associated with pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Coronaviruses were given their name based on the crown-like projections on their surfaces (in Latin, "corona" means "halo" or "crown"). Coronavirus antibodies do not last or work for very long, so a person who becomes ill can catch the same virus again a few months later. Also, antibodies for one strain of coronavirus may not be effective against other strains.
What is COVID-19?
In 2019, a new type of coronavirus not previously identified was discovered in China. Like other coronaviruses, this virus, COVID-19, can be spread easily from person to person, particularly through respiratory droplets acquired when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. Most often people need to be within six feet of the infected person for contraction. The CDC says that COVID-19 also is believed to be spread from animals to people. It's currently unclear if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his oer her own mouth, nose or eyes.
Those confirmed as having the virus reported illnesses ranging from mild symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath to more severe illness. Reactions to COVID-19 can differ from individual to individual. It's believed that symptoms of COVID-19 can appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure. Those who have been in China or around others who have visited from China and are experiencing cold or flu symptoms are advised call their physicians.
Prevention and Treatment
The WHO says that if a person is healthy, he or she only needs to wear a mask if this person is taking care of another with a suspected COVID-19 infection. One also should wear a mask if he or she is coughing or sneezing.
Doctors advise that frequent handwashing, and in the absence of warm, soapy water, alcohol-based sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol can be effective in preventing transmission of COVID-19. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Currently there is no specific antiviral treatment for the disease; people should receive supportive care for symptoms. However, research into antiviral drugs, such as those for HIV and influenza, are being tested for their potential efficacy against COVID-19, Research into developing a vaccine for this novel coronavirus also is ongoing.
Concerned individuals should speak with their healthcare providers for accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19 as global health organizations continue to monitor conditions and treatments.