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What is a coronavirus? [All You Need To Know]

oronaviruses are a type of virus. There are many different kinds, and some cause disease. A newly identified type has caused a recent outbreak of respiratory illness now called COVID-19 that started in China.

According to WHO, Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

Lauren Sauer, M.S., the director of operations with the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response and director of research with the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, shares information about COVID-19 and what you need to know.

How is COVID-19 spread?

Recent information indicates COVID-19 may be passed from person to person. Community spread is being seen, also. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in a particular area, including some people who are not sure how or where they became infected. COVID-19 has been detected in people throughout China and in over 100 other countries, including the United States.

The spread of this new coronavirus is being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization and health organizations like Johns Hopkins across the globe. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency.

How did this new coronavirus spread to humans?

COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Although health officials are still tracing the exact source of this new coronavirus, early hypotheses thought it may be linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Some people who visited the market developed viral pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. A study that came out on Jan. 25, 2020, notes that the individual with the first reported case became ill on Dec. 1, 2019, and had no link to the seafood market. Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.

What is the incubation period for COVID-19?

It appears that symptoms are showing up in people within 14 days of exposure to the virus.

What are symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

  • In rare cases, COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or death.

    If you have a fever or any kind of respiratory difficulty such as coughing or shortness of breath, call your doctor or a health care provider and explain your symptoms over the phone before going to the doctor’s office, urgent care facility or emergency room.

    Over the phone, be sure to tell them if you have traveled outside the country in the last 14 days, particularly to countries affected by COVID-19 (currently China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea). Also, be sure to tell them if you suspect you have been close (within 6 feet) of someone who has COVID-19 for an extended period. Your health care provider or the emergency room team will recommend next steps.

    If you have a medical emergency, call 911 or your country-specific number and let them know about your symptoms and recent travel history.

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