What Is Coronavirus?

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Coronaviruses are a type of virus. There are many different kinds, and some cause disease. A newly identified type has caused a recent outbreak of respiratory illness now called COVID-19 that started in China.

Lauren Sauer, M.S., the director of operations with the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response and director of research with the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, shares information about COVID-19 and what you need to know.

How is COVID-19 spread?
Recent information indicates COVID-19 may be passed from person to person. There are still a lot of unknowns, including how contagious it might be.

The spread of this new coronavirus is being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization and health organizations like Johns Hopkins across the globe. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency.

How did this new coronavirus spread to humans?
COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Although health officials are still tracing the exact source of this new coronavirus, early hypotheses thought it may be linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Some people who visited the market developed viral pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. A study that came out on Jan. 25, 2020, notes that the individual with the first reported case became ill on Dec. 1, 2019, and had no link to the seafood market. Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.

This virus probably originally emerged from an animal source but now seems to be spreading from person to person. COVID-19 has been detected in people throughout China and 24 other countries, including the United States.

What is the incubation period for COVID-19?
It appears that symptoms are showing up in people within 14 days of exposure to the virus.

What are symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms include:

Cough
Fever
Shortness of breath
In rare cases, COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or death.

If you have a fever or any kind of respiratory difficulty such as coughing or shortness of breath, call your doctor or a health care provider and explain your symptoms over the phone before going to the doctor’s office, urgent care facility or emergency room.

Over the phone, be sure to tell them if you have traveled outside the country in the last 14 days, particularly to countries affected by COVID-19 (currently China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea). Also, be sure to tell them if you suspect you have been close (within 6 feet) of someone who has COVID-19 for an extended period. Your health care provider or the emergency room team will recommend next steps.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911 and let them know about your symptoms and recent travel history.

For updates, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What Is Coronavirus?

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
Diagnosis may be difficult with only a physical exam because mild cases of COVID-19 may appear similar to the flu or a bad cold. A laboratory test can confirm the diagnosis.

How is COVID-19 treated?
As of now, there is not a specific treatment for the virus. People who become sick from COVID-19 should be treated with supportive measures: those that relieve symptoms. For severe cases, there may be additional options for treatment, including research drugs and therapeutics.

Does COVID-19 cause death?
As of Mar. 8, 2020, 3,653 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. However, 60,659 people have recovered from the illness.

Is this coronavirus different from SARS?
SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. In 2003, an outbreak of SARS started in China and spread to other countries before ending in 2004. The virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to the one that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak: both are types of coronaviruses. Much is still unknown, but COVID-19 seems to spread faster than the 2003 SARS and also may cause less severe illness.

How do you protect yourself from this coronavirus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has these suggestions:

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
Stay home when you are sick.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects people frequently touch.
What are the precautions for coronavirus?
Several health agencies in China and other countries, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO), are keeping a careful eye on this illness and taking steps to prevent it from spreading.

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