You’ve seen the memes, and maybe even some headlines, but you don’t really know what the deal is with this new Coronavirus that you keep hearing about. Then, you hear the World Health Organization has declared it a global health emergency, so you start to worry. So, what’s really going on?
Coronaviruses are a specific type of virus that cause infections in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. The CDC has explained that most coronaviruses are not dangerous, but every so often, one comes around that is more difficult to contain and a little more deadly. The outbreak of this strand of coronavirus began in December 2019 in Wuhan, Mainland China. It is believed that the virus originated in bats or snakes, and was transferred to humans in one of Wuhan’s live animal markets. At first, the virus remained in Wuhan, but, as of February 8, there have been more than 27 countries housing infected people.
According to CNN, a total of 722 people have died from the virus, and 34,546 have been infected, with those numbers increasing every day. One of the reasons the virus seems so deadly is because of how easily it spreads in comparison to past versions of the virus, such as SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2013. There is also a longer incubation period, meaning that a person may carry and spread the virus before they begin to show symptoms and take the proper precautions. Because of this, China has put forth an unprecedented effort to quarantine its citizens in affected cities, sometimes even cutting off roads, ground and air transportation to and from entire cities in efforts to keep the virus under control. It’s estimated that around 60 million people are under some sort of travel restriction.
In efforts to help treat those already infected, the Chinese government has constructed a hospital in just 10 days in the Hubei province, that is said to house 1,000 hospital beds. CNN reports that “The two-story, 366,000-square-foot Huoshenshan Hospital began accepting its first patients Monday, a little over a week after land-levelling work commenced.” The hospital is intended to mitigate the problems facing Wuhan’s overburdened healthcare system. The government of Wuhan has shared several aspects of the hospital that have been tailored specifically to the Coronavirus, including the use of negative air pressure to ensure that ventilated air flows into isolated wards, but cannot go back out. Their hopes are that the newly constructed hospital will allow for more patients to be treated, while also ensuring that infected people are kept separately from hospital patients admitted for different issues, in order to slow the spread of the virus.
According to The Washington Post, those at most severe risk for the illness are thought to be similar to at-risk patients of other respiratory illnesses: older people, those with autoimmune deficiencies or other underlying illnesses, including high blood pressure and diabetes. As of right now, there is no vaccine available to help prevent against the virus, but doctors are hopeful about the possibility of creating one given the similarity of strains to earlier viruses that have had successful vaccines.
With all the hype surrounding Coronavirus, there is a misconception that it can cause those it infects extreme agony or even death. In reality, the symptoms are the same as a strong common cold, and people have been instructed to treat it the same way too. It’s unlikely that the virus will reach the same level of dangerousness in the United States that it has reached in Wuhan because of the precautions taken by the FDA. In fact, Healthline reported that the first patient infected with the virus in the US has recovered and been sent home.
In terms of preventative measures, it’s important––as always––to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, use hand sanitizer often, keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, and avoid close contact with infected people.
The CDC put out a statement saying, “even when a coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the US isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult.” It’s unclear whether this statement applies to the 2020 version of the virus. There have only been about 12 cases of this strain seen in the United States, only one of which was a person-to-person transmission, reported the US News and World Report Team.