A new Chinese coronavirus, a cousin of the SARS virus, has infected hundreds since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December. Scientist Leo Poon, who first decoded the virus, thinks it likely started in an animal and spread to humans.
There are now 71 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in the United States. Here’s what you should know to keep yourself safe:
The viruses can make people sick, usually with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Coronavirus symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, possibly a headache and maybe a fever, which can last for a couple of days.
For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young, there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like a pneumonia or bronchitis.
How it spreads
When it comes to human-to-human transmission of the viruses, often it happens when someone comes into contact with an infected person’s secretions, such as droplets in a cough.
Depending on how virulent the virus is, a cough, sneeze or handshake could cause exposure. The virus can also be transmitted by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Caregivers can sometimes be exposed by handling a patient’s waste, according to the CDC.
MERS, SARS and the Wuhan coronavirus appear to cause more severe disease in older people, though uncertainty remains around the latest outbreak. Of the cases of Wuhan coronavirus reported so far, none are yet confirmed to be among children, Horby said. The average age is people 40 or over, he said.
“People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest),” the CDC says. “Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with … coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
There is no specific treatment, but research is underway. Most of the time, symptoms will go away on their own and experts advise seeking care early. If symptoms feel worse than a standard cold, see your doctor.
Most of the time, symptoms will go away on their own and experts advise seeking care early. If symptoms feel worse than a standard cold, see your doctor. Doctors can relieve symptoms by prescribing a pain or fever medication. The CDC says a room humidifier or a hot shower can help with a sore throat or cough.
Drink plenty of fluids, get rest and sleep as much as possible.
People who think they may have been exposed to the virus should contact their healthcare provider immediately.
How long is the incubation period
Quarantine is usually set up for the incubation period – the span of time during which people have developed illness after exposure. For coronavirus, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar illnesses.
How can you can prevent it?
There is no vaccine to protect against this family of viruses, at least not yet. Trials for a MERS vaccine are underway. The US National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine against the new virus, but it will be months until clinical trials get underway and more than a year until it might become available.
The US National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine but it will be months until clinical trials get underway and more than a year until it might become available.
You may be able to reduce your risk of infection by avoiding people who are sick. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Awareness is key. If you are sick and have reason to believe it may be the Wuhan coronavirus due to travel to the region or coming into contact with someone who has been there, you should let a health care provider know and seek treatment early.
CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout, Jen Christensen and Meera Senthilingam contributed to this report.