What you need to know about the coronavirus

January 29, 2020

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It’s hard to avoid news of the recent outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus, but the risk for the American public remains low, mainly because the virus does not easily spread from person to person. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the common flu and measles more dangerous because they are more contagious. Here are some other things you need to know about the virus.

What do we know so far?

There are only five known cases in the U.S. and currently less than 100 other possible cases under investigation. In most cases, the patient had recently traveled or had direct contact with someone who recently traveled to Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where the outbreak started and has sickened thousands and killed at least 100 people. The CDC maintains that the risk to Americans is low due to the limited ability of the virus to spread from person to person and continues to monitor the situation.

How did the 2019 novel coronavirus start?

It’s suspected the first human case of 2019 novel coronavirus was contracted through contact with an infected animal. This was also the case with two similar viruses in the past, also from the coronavirus family: SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which started in Asia in 2003 and has not had a reported case since 2004, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which started in Jordan in 2012 and has seen a significant decrease in the number of cases annually.

What are the symptoms and how can they be treated?

Symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to that of the common flu: runny nose, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fever and in some circumstances a headache that lasts more than a day. In most cases the virus is not deadly, and these symptoms will go away on their own. Treatment is similar to the flu; patients are advised to drink plenty of fluids and prioritize getting lots of sleep. Symptoms can also be treated with fever and pain medication.

Those with a weakened immune system are most at risk. The coronavirus can lead to more serious respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Anyone who presents these symptoms, even if they haven’t been exposed to the coronavirus, should consult a physician.

How can I protect myself from getting the virus?

The chances of contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus in the U.S. through human contact are low, but preventative measures can still be taken to limit the risk of contracting this or any virus. This includes washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching your eyes, nose or mouth (or using alcohol based sanitizer if soap and water are not available), getting a flu shot, disinfecting surfaces frequently and staying at least three feet away from someone showing symptoms. If you’re already ill, avoid going out in public.

More information about the coronavirus can be found at on the CDC website.