I’m sure that in the last week your phone, social media, and news feed has been bombarded with stories of the recent craze: the coronavirus. There is so much concern over this developing pandemic that people are becoming fearful of the fate of humanity. But what are we truly up against and should we be worried?
In this article, we’re diving deep into what the coronavirus really is, how it can affect you, and what you can do to stay safe. Here we will uncover the answers to the top trending questions and shed some light on the myths and facts!
What is Coronavirus?
Without getting too deep into the science, let’s take a quick look at the history and explanation of the pathogen in question.
The coronavirus (CoV) is not a new virus, in fact, it was first discovered in the 1960s.
Coronavirus is a group of RNA-based viruses that attack and replicate the nucleus of the cells, thereby spreading infection rapidly throughout the body. The virus commonly attacks mammals, like cattle, camels, pigs, cats, and bats, but on occasion, it mutates and can infect people.
Currently, there are seven strains of the CoV that affect humans. These include the four common strains that are not transmitted by animals (229E, OC43, HCoV-NL63, HCoV-HKU1) and three others that were originally produced by animal mutations (SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and 2019-nCoV). The first two stains mentioned are largely responsible for producing the common cold. The latter is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, otherwise known as the Wuhan Coronavirus (CoV for short), and is the one making headlines today.
For the purpose of staying relevant to the current events, we will mostly focus on the Wuhan CoV. The virus originated in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, in December 2019. As of the end of January 2020, there is little information known about the virus other than that it’s spreading at a rapid rate. In as little as 31 days, it has spread to more than 11,000 people worldwide and killed over 250. Roughly 20% of the confirmed cases have been severe, but only 2 to 3% have led to fatalities. For this reason, it has been declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO).
It’s still undetermined where the virus originated from, but the speculation is that it came from an animal. For future reference, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is continually updating information on its website as it becomes available.
What does the Coronavirus do to the body?
The seven types of coronaviruses that affect humans are essentially different mutations of the same pathogen, all of them causing illnesses throughout the respiratory system— that is the nose, the mouth, throat, larynx, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs.
In basic definitions, these are the effects of the seven strains of the CoV.
- 229E: Causes the common cold.
- OC43: It also causes the common cold.
- HCoV-NL63: This strain causes bronchiolitis.
- HCoV-HKU1: This is the Human CoV Hong Kong U1 virus which causes respiratory diseases, one of the main ones being pneumonia.
- SARS-CoV: Also known as Severe-Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoV. This pathogen initially infected bats, who transmitted it to civet cats, and later passed it on to humans.
- MERS-CoV: This is the Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome CoV, otherwise known as the Camel Flu, which causes respiratory infections as well. This pathogen began in camels who directly transmitted the disease to humans.
- 2019-nCoV: This is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, otherwise known as the Wuhan CoV. All we know at this point is that it causes a wide range of symptoms including viral pneumonia and in severe cases respiratory failure with the possibility of death.
The first symptoms of the Wuhan Coronavirus, according to the CDC, include “mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.” Other symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing, and fatigue. A person may be infected with the virus and not show symptoms until 2 to 14 days after they have been exposed.
The Coronavirus can affect healthy and non-healthy people alike, however, the population at the highest risk includes those who have recently been to China, particularly Wuhan and the nearby regions, obviously due to probable exposure. The people groups most vulnerable to the virus are babies and young children, elderly seniors, those with pre-existing respiratory problems and immune system deficiencies, and possibly pregnant women.
How does the Coronavirus spread?
It is believed that the Wuhan Coronavirus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human, but there is no confirmed evidence of this yet. Right now, the virus is being spread from person-to-person, but it’s also unknown how contagious it is.
The virus is thought to be transmitted to humans through:
- Coughing and sneezing: Anyone standing within 6 feet of an individual with the illness is at high-risk of breathing in the infected respiratory droplets.
- Animals: The initial passing on of the virus is said to come from an animal, but the true source is still under investigation.
It remains unclear whether the virus can be spread through:
- Surfaces or objects: If you touch a surface where the virus has landed, and then proceed to touch your face (eyes, mouth, or nose), you may expose yourself to it.
- Air: It’s unknown how long the virus can survive in the air after it leaves one individual and gets passed on to another.
- Food: Sharing food, household items, and utensils are not recommended since it may contribute to the transmission of the virus.
- Handshakes: If an infected person covers their mouth to cough, and later gives you a handshake without having washed their hands, you may have a higher chance of contracting it.
The measures being taken to prevent the spread of this virus include:
- Early recognition. As doctors and researches work diligently to identify the cause of this strain of CoV, they are urging the public to take notice of possible symptoms and take precautions.
- Immediate isolation. Those who experience CoV-like symptoms are immediately separated and put into quarantine for a minimum of 10 to 14 days, or until they’re no longer considered contagious.
How is the Coronavirus treated?
There is currently no effective antiviral therapy available nor recommended for the Wuhan Coronavirus. As is the case with most things, prevention is certainly better than the cure (since there is none).
Since the CoV closely mimics the symptoms of the common cold and flu, the treatments being used to help people recover are similar in nature. The current measures being used to treat patients with CoV are:
- Staying hydrated. It’s essential to drink plenty of fluids to help your body flush itself out. Hydrating drinks include water (you can add some honey and lemon for better taste!), boiled bone or chicken broth (not bouillon), and natural fruit juices. If you drink these liquids warm, they may help to soothe a sore throat. Do not drink or eat things that dehydrate you.
- Sleeping. Your body fights to heal itself while it’s resting, so make sure to get plenty of sleep at night, and don’t overexert your body. Take it easy until you begin to feel healthy and strong again.
- The use of over-the-counter medications. Ask your doctor for recommendations on which decongestants, pain relievers, fever reducers, or other medications you should take to combat your symptoms. Make sure that the medications you choose to take don’t conflict with any preexisting medical conditions or allergies. Also, be sure to take the appropriate dosage prescribed by your doctor.
Why is the Wuhan Coronavirus dangerous?
Although the four common strains of the CoV are not considered dangerous, the Wuhan CoV may be dangerous for several reasons.
- We know very little about this particular strain of the virus. Research experts are racing against the clock to determine what caused the virus, where exactly it originated from, the most effective ways to treat it, and how deadly it really is. As of yet, little has been discovered.
- There is no medicine to cure those who have been infected. Since we’re dealing with a new strain of CoV, there is no vaccine or procedure to successfully treat it.
- The virus is spreading quickly. In one month alone, over 11,000 people have become ill with Wuhan CoV and hundreds have died. Until more information is discovered about the virus and how to combat it, the international community has implemented severe measures to prevent it from spreading any further. Many countries have responded by putting their citizens who may be infected into quarantine, as well as issuing travel advisories and/or temporarily closing their borders to and from China.
When compared to the SARS, it appears that Wuhan CoV is less deadly. SARS killed nearly 10% of the people that became ill with the virus. According to the data we have thus far on the Wuhan CoV, only 2 to 3% of those infected have passed away.
Where is the Wuhan Coronavirus found in the world?
As of the initial posting of this article (January 31, 2020), the Wuhan Coronavirus can be found in 27 countries. These countries include Mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, United States, France, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Italy, Russia, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Cambodia, Finland, India, Nepal, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Sweden.
In the future weeks and months, the virus may continue to spread although we certainly hope that it won’t! There are strict measures being taken internationally to prevent this.
This map allows you to see which countries have been affected thus far, as well as a result of how many people have recovered or passed away to date.
How to stay safe from the Coronavirus
Like before-mentioned, there is no known cure for the Wuhan CoV, therefore it’s best to take preventative measures to stay healthy.
These are some safety tips:
- Sanitize your hands often. First and foremost, practice hand hygiene! Be sure to wash them with soap and hot water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You should do this before and after cooking or eating, when you’re in close proximity to a lot of people, after using the restroom, and when touching surfaces in public places.
- Do not touch your mouth, nose, and eyes if your hands are dirty.
- Sanitize tabletops, workspaces, door handles, and any other surfaces that people often come into contact with.
- Prevent the cross-contamination of raw meats with foods that don’t require cooking. For example, do not use the same cutting boards for meat and fresh veggies. Always wash your hands after touching raw meat during food preparation. Do not eat or drink animal products that are raw or undercooked.
- Steer clear from anyone who may be showing symptoms that resemble the flu or the common cold, including those who have a fever, runny nose, or a persistent cough. Also, take extra caution if you’re near someone who has recently traveled to China. If you’re in close proximity to someone who is infected, do not share any items with them, and wear a mask when you’re around them.
- Try not to spend too much time in crowded places, such as airports, public transport, and malls. Medical or surgical masks may prevent the spread or contraction of the virus, so use one if you feel the need to, but know how to properly use and safely dispose of them. For more information, you can read the WHO’s advice on the use of masks here.
- Be extra cautious when traveling. One of the reasons the virus is spreading so quickly is because of the facility of international air travel nowadays.
- If you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, go get checked out by your doctor as soon as possible. If you’re sneezing or coughing, always cover your mouth and then sanitize your hands. Avoid going out until your condition improves, and wear a face mask when you’re near other people.
The Wuhan Coronavirus is not contained at this time but I believe that at some point in the near future it will be stopped, just like SARS and MERS were. Even though we’re uncertain about the rate at which its spreading and how deadly it is, it’s encouraging that patients are making complete recoveries.
Be sure to take all preventative measures and stay tuned to the CDC and the WHO for updates and advisories.
- Human Coronavirus Types - CDC
- What’s to Know About Coronaviruses? - Medical News Today
- Coronavirus HKU1 and Other Coronavirus Infections in Hong Kong - The Journal of Clinical Microbiology
- Coronaviruses (Wuhan Virus Outbreak) - Medicosis Perfectionalis
- Coronavirus - WebMD
- How 2019-nCoV Spreads - CDC
- The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Report 8 - WHO
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