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If you've been following the news, you've seen the word "coronavirus" a lot. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, that originated in China's Hubei Province is a new type of coronavirus, a family of illnesses that ranges from the common cold to SARS. You've likely seen a lot of concerning and conflicting reports from many sources, so we've created this overview to help you understand more about the virus and the world health community's response to it.
Coronaviruses are common, affecting most people at some point in their lives, and usually causing mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses like colds. The 2019 coronavirus has much in common with these, but is most similar to MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. You may remember reading about outbreaks of these two illnesses in the past.
The major symptoms of 2019-nCoV established so far have been:
Physical symptoms have not been present in everyone with 2019-nCoV, and symptoms may be mild. If you have any of these symptoms and have recently been to China or a nearby region, or have a loved one who has visited there, you should see a doctor to identify your risk of carrying the disease.
Impaired breathing is what makes 2019-nCoV most like MERS or SARS. Like these other two coronaviruses, the 2019 coronavirus can easily cause a lower respiratory tract infection, most frequently pneumonia. The virus progressing to pneumonia seems to be the most common occurrence of cases turning severe or fatal.
Patients with 2019-nCoV have been found to have low white blood cell counts and low lymphocytes, a specific type of white blood cell. This is common with respiratory infections, as the common cold or influenza can lower white blood cell counts. But it can also be dangerous, as this increases the risk of further infection.
This risk is most pronounced for certain groups of people:
The 2019 novel coronavirus originated in animals, but more importantly spreads human-to-human. It's thought to transmit in a similar way to the flu or other respiratory illnesses:
The incubation period, the time between exposure to a virus and the first appearance of symptoms, is not fully known yet. Symptoms may appear as quickly as two days after infection, but there is a possibility that the virus may incubate for a full 14 days in some cases.
Many of our website visitors are from North America, and you're likely wondering about the risk of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus appearing here. While the situation is still developing, a very limited number of cases have appeared outside of mainland China so far. As of this writing, only 5 confirmed patients have reached the United States.
We don't want to dismiss the potential danger of this illness. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a serious public health concern, as was the SARS outbreak that occurred from 2002-2004. It's likely more cases will be found in America, and transmission is possible. However, we urge our readers not to panic. The world health community's awareness of and response to the SARS outbreak was much slower than it has been for 2019-nCoV, in part because governments and health organizations have examples like the SARS outbreak to provide a template for effective response. Currently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider the risk to the United States as low.
If you're not traveling to China or nearby areas, the CDC recommends common preventative steps that you might use during cold & flu season:
If you are or have recently traveled to China or nearby areas, please consult the CDC's recommendations on the current situation. Currently they urge travelers to avoid nonessential travel to the country.
Currently there is no vaccine for 2019-nCoV, although research is being done to create one. No specific antiviral treatment has been recommended yet. Treatment methods at present consist of supportive care to relieve symptoms, or in severe cases to protect function of major organs such as the lungs.