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.
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:
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.
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.
Some coronavirus infections can be mild and cause common cold symptoms, including:
However, other coronavirus infections, including the new coronavirus, COVID-19, can cause more severe symptoms, including:
In more severe cases, COVID-19 infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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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.