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Note: This is a developing story that was first published on 23 January 2020 and last updated on 12 August 2020. Your.MD will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.
A new type of virus that causes an infection of the lungs and airways has spread globally.
The virus, a type of coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
The first cases of the illness were linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sold live animals and meat. However, the viral infection (known as COVID-19) has since reached every region of the world.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports that the virus has infected 20 330 351 cases people to date - of which 742 413 have died.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak to be a pandemic - the worldwide spread of a new disease.
With many questions surrounding the virus - such as where it came from, how it’s passed from human to human, and what people can do to reduce their risk of catching it - here’s what you need to know about the new coronavirus.
Seek medical help immediately if you have symptoms of coronavirus:
Don't go to your doctor’s office or the emergency room, instead call your country's dedicated coronavirus helpline. If it's an emergency, phone for an ambulance and tell them your symptoms so that measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infecting others.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect humans and animals. They are named after the crown-like spikes found on their surfaces - the word ‘corona’ means ‘crown’ in Latin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 7 types of coronavirus that can infect humans.
Of these, 4 are viruses that commonly cause respiratory tract infections, like the common cold, in humans. However, 3 are viruses that infect animals, but have evolved into a type of coronavirus that can also make humans sick.
These evolved coronaviruses include the new virus and those that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks of 2003 and 2012, respectively.
The new coronavirus is called SARS-CoV-2, while the illness it causes is called COVID-19.
Some coronavirus infections can be mild and cause either no symptoms or common cold symptoms, including:
However, some infections can cause more severe symptoms, including:
In the most severe cases, COVID-19 infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, sepsis, kidney failure and death.
Find out more about the range of symptoms and who is at most risk here.
If you have symptoms, you can use the COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to assess whether you have mild, moderate or severe symptoms and to understand how your symptoms compare with other people around the world.
People of all ages are vulnerable to the coronavirus and may suffer mild, moderate or severe disease if infected. It's suspected that some people may have no symptoms (asymptomatic).
But certain people are more likely to suffer severe forms of COVID-19. They are:
Conditions that put you at more risk include:
The new coronavirus can be passed from one person to another.
It's thought that like other coronavirus infections, SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly via respiratory droplets released when an infected person sneezes, coughs or breathes out.
The virus can also survive for up to a few days on hard surfaces such as tables and door handles.
The WHO recommends the following actions to reduce the spread of the infection:
A growing number of governments, experts and health agencies are telling people to wear a face mask or cover their face in some form when they're out in public. But the WHO say there is no storng evidence to support doing this. Here’s the advice that’s out there.
You should also avoid close contact with farm or wild animals, and anyone with symptoms that suggest they may have a throat, airway or lung infection. These are symptoms like coughing and sneezing.
If you think you may have had close contact with an infected person, contact a doctor for advice. They may ask you to self-isolate for up to 14 days.
There's no vaccine to reduce your risk of catching the new coronavirus infection and there is no specific treatment for it. Like the common cold and other coronavirus infections, many cases of COVID-19 currently appear to resolve on their own in time.
However, if you have seen a doctor and they think your illness is mild, there are things you can do to help improve your symptoms. These include:
If you’re concerned about your symptoms, or your symptoms get worse or don’t improve with self-care, contact a doctor or healthcare provider immediately.
While the outbreak is ongoing, health agencies and governments worldwide recommend that you should stay at home to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. This is a practice known as physical distancing (or social distancing) and involves staying at least 1 to 2 metres away from others when out in public.
Some people who have symptoms, signs or risk factors that suggest they may have been exposed to the new coronavirus may be asked to avoid all in-person contact with other people for up to 14 days. This is known as self-isolation.
If you are told to self-isolate, you should:
If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.
This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.