A coronavirus outbreak that began in a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has spread to other countries and led experts to worry about the potential for a severe pandemic.
This FAQ provides the basics of what a coronavirus is, how it’s transmitted and how you can protect yourself.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that typically cause mild respiratory infections like the common cold but also more severe (and potentially deadly) infections. They are zoonotic diseases, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.
What severe diseases are caused by coronaviruses?
A coronavirus that originated in China led to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003. Another coronavirus emerged in 2012 in Saudia Arabia causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
What symptoms do coronaviruses typically cause? How severe are the symptoms in the current outbreak?
Common signs of infection include runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Why is it called a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word corona, meaning “crown” or “halo,” because they have “crown-like spikes on their surface,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
How are coronaviruses transmitted between people?
Coronaviruses are typically transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets and close contact.
How can I protect myself against coronaviruses?
The World Health Organization suggests avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing; covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; regular hand washing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs to protect yourself against infection and limit the spread of the virus.
What treatments are there for coronaviruses?
Currently, there are no licensed vaccines or therapeutic agents for coronavirus prevention or treatment though research into potential antivirals is underway.
Should I avoid travel to places affected by the outbreak?
The WHO is not yet recommending any travel or trade restrictions; its latest recommendations advise international travelers to "practice the usual precautions." However, the US CDC has raised its travel advisory to level 3, advising travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
Is there a known animal vector for the current outbreak?
The outbreak in Wuhan, China has been linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak. However, a specific intermediate host has yet to be determined for the current outbreak.
- Find the most recent Global Health NOW coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.
- The Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is publishing daily situation reports here.
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