Worried about coronavirus? Visit our coronavirus hub to find out all you need to know.
×
Health

Coronavirus: What you need to know

23 January 2020 in Health

Note: This is a developing story that was first published on 23 January 2020 and last updated on 24 February 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 recently been discovered in China.

The virus, a type of coronavirus, was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

The first cases of the illness have been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sold live animals and meat. However, the viral infection has since spread worldwide, reaching other countries in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.

As a new virus, little is known about the size of the risk it poses. However, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports that the virus has infected 79,360 people to date - of which 2,618 have died.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern, as it did with Ebola and swine flu.

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.

When to worry

Seek medical help immediately if you’ve travelled to China within the last 14 days or you've been in contact with anyone who has been in China and you:

  • feel unwell
  • have difficulty breathing
  • have a fever
  • have a cough

Before going to your doctor’s office or the emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms so that measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infecting others.

What is coronavirus?

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 COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

Some coronavirus infections can be mild and cause common cold symptoms, including:

  • a runny nose
  • a cough
  • a sore throat
  • sneezing

However, other coronavirus infections, including the new coronavirus, COVID-19, can cause more severe symptoms, including:

  • a fever
  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, COVID-19 infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

How is it spread?

The new coronavirus can be passed from one person to another, but exactly how this happens is currently unclear.

As coronavirus infections are usually spread through contact with an infected person, the WHO recommends the following actions to reduce the spread of the infection:

  • regular hand washing
  • covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing - the CDC recommends using a tissue or your sleeve instead of your hands
  • washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap - wash for at least 20 seconds
  • throwing used tissues away immediately
  • using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available
  • cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces

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.

How is it treated?

There is 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:

  • taking painkillers, such as paracetamol, to manage pain and reduce a high temperature
  • using a room humidifier or taking a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough
  • drinking plenty of liquids
  • resting at home

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.

Is it safe to travel?

The CDC is currently advising against nonessential travel in and out of China in an attempt to limit further spread of the virus. Media reports suggest that several airlines have cancelled flights to and from China.

If you must travel to China, the CDC recommends you should:

  • avoid contact with sick people
  • avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets and animal products
  • wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available

Older travellers and those with existing health conditions may have a higher risk of developing a severe version of the new coronavirus. If you fall into this group, speak with your doctor before travelling to China.

Although travel to China is currently not recommended, the WHO says there is no need to avoid travelling to other countries. If you do travel, be aware that many countries are taking precautions by performing health checks at airports. Travellers from China to the US may have to undergo health checks that may involve having their temperature taken and completing a symptom questionnaire at the airport. Anyone showing signs of illness may be given an additional health assessment.

If you’ve travelled to China (or been in contact with someone who has) in the last 14 days and feel sick, have difficulty breathing or have a fever or cough, you should:

  • seek medical care immediately. Before going to your doctor’s office or the emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms so that measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infecting others
  • avoid contact with others
  • avoid travelling while sick
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing
  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available for handwashing

Could this turn into an epidemic?

The number of people who could be affected by this illness is currently unknown, but measures are being taken to help limit the spread as much as possible.


References:

[Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

UpToDate [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Novel Coronavirus 2019 [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus | Human Coronavirus Types | CDC [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

CDC SARS Response Timeline | About | CDC [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Flu [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Novel Coronavirus in China - Alert - Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions - Travel Health Notices | Travelers' Health | CDC [Internet]. Wwwnc.cdc.gov. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus | About | Prevention and Treatment | CDC [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Novel Coronavirus – China [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2020 [cited 23 January 2020]. Available here.

Novel coronavirus in China [Internet]. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2020 [cited 27 January 2020]. Available here.

Statement on the second meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 1 February 2020]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/30-01-2020-statement-on-the-second-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)

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.

Try the App
3 million downloads
Image with a link to download the app for android devicesImage with a link to download the app for ios devices
Top