By Linda Farneth
What exactly is it?
First let us examine the symptoms, which mimic many common colds and flues.
Coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms, such as runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, and fever.
Sometimes, coronaviruses can cause more severe infections, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs), kidney failure, or even death.
Let’s face it, it’s these last few symptoms that make the disease so dreaded and why health officials are taking this new virus very seriously.
So why is it called Novel Coronavirus?
Well for starters according the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a coronovirus is a large family of viruses that can infect humans or animals.
Sometimes an animal coronavirus can change so that it can infect people and become a human coronavirus.
Currently we are aware of seven types of human coronoviruses. Four are mild types of virus that are very common and cause mild to moderate respiratory infections, not unlike the common cold.
Two of the more server coronoviruses are SARS-Cov (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) and MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) both can cause severe respiratory infections and have been responsible for epidemics in the past, infecting and even killing many people. (More details on these two viruses provided below at the end of this article.)
The seventh type, Novel Coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV, is referred to as “Novel” because it is “new”. It was recently discovered in China. Public health officials are trying to learn more about this new virus and the infection it causes.
How it’s spread
While originally thought to be spreading from animal-to-person, there are growing indications that limited person-to-person spread is happening.
The virus was first centered in Wuhan, China. In its early stages of the outbreak many of the patients had reported some link to a large seafood and animal market. This lead health officials to believe the spread was solely, animal-to-person spread.
According to press releases from the VDH “A a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting person-to-person spread is occurring. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.”
Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, close personal contact (such as caring for or living with an infected person), or touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes before washing your hands.
Three human coronaviruses (SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and 2019-nCoV) are also thought to spread from infected animals to people through contact.
In general, symptoms usually appear 2–14 days after exposure. Special laboratory tests for respiratory or blood samples are needed to diagnose coronavirus infection and there is no specific treatment for coronavirus infections. Treatment consists of supportive care and relief of symptoms.
How can coronavirus infection be prevented? The VDH advises there is no vaccine currently so people should follow the tips below to minimize the risk of infection from this and any other virus:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash your hands especially after coughing and sneezing, before and after caring for an ill person, and before preparing foods and before eating.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact (such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils) with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
- Stay home when you are sick, except when you need to get medical care.
- Wash hands after animal contact and after visiting farms, markets, barns, petting zoos, and agricultural fairs.
- Avoid contact with animals who are sick.
How can I learn more about coronaviruses?
- If you have concerns about coronaviruses, contact your healthcare provider.
- Call your local health department. A directory of local health departments is located at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts/.
- Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
History of SARS and MERS
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a type of coronavirus infection discovered in China in 2002. The virus that causes SARS quickly spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia before it was controlled. During the 2002-2003 outbreak, nearly 8,100 people became infected. In the United States, eight people with laboratory-confirmed SARS infection were identified and they had traveled to areas where the virus was spreading. Since 2004, no cases of SARS have been reported in the world.
Another type of coronavirus infection is Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Since it was discovered in 2012, nearly 2,500 people with MERS have been identified. All these cases have been linked to travel to or residence in and near the Arabian Peninsula. Countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula include Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Two people in the United States have had MERS and both traveled to Saudi Arabia where they likely became infected.