What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. A novel strain of coronavirus (temporarily named ‘2019-nCoV’ by the World Health Organization [WHO], but now officially named ‘SARS-CoV-2’) was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province with a population of 11 million, after an outbreak of pneumonia without an obvious cause. The virus has now spread to several countries across the globe.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 probably emerged from an animal source, but is now spreading from person to person. e virus is thought to spread mainly between people who
are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has
the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses at https://www.cdc.gov/ coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html
What are the symptoms?
Patients with COVID-19 have reported symptoms similar to other respiratory illnesses, including mild to severe symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath that typically begin two to 14 days after exposure, the CDC reports. Many patients with severe complications from the virus have pneumonia in both lungs.
The CDC is asking those with symptoms to call their health care provider or local health department for advice before seeking care to avoid spreading germs to others. If your doctor suspects COVID-19 and orders a test, Medicare will cover the cost.
The CDC also has tips for what to do if you become infected with COVID-19.
How is it treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 at this time, just relief from symptoms. However, a clinical trial is underway to test the safety and efficacy of the drug remdesivir as a potential treatment in adults with COVID-19.
What’s the deal with a vaccine?
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and elsewhere have been working on developing a vaccine for COVID-19 since Chinese health authorities made the genetic sequence of the virus available. But a vaccine is likely a year away, at minimum, from being available to the public.
Why does it take so long?
A vaccine will need to be tested in monthslong clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness in people, explained Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH. If the vaccine proves safe and effective in the trials and is rushed through regulatory processes, it will still need to be produced for the masses, which will likely add several more months to the timeline.
Will a flu shot provide protection?
There is no evidence that the flu shot or the pneumococcal vaccination will provide any protection from the coronavirus, Messonnier said. Both, however, will increase your chances of staying healthy this winter. And it’s important to keep in mind that like COVID-19, the flu can be deadly. The CDC estimates that the flu was responsible for 34,200 deaths in the 2018-19 season.
Protecting yourself from the flu also lessens the burden on the health care system, should the U.S. see a spike in COVID-19 cases, New York City’s Madad said.
A healthy population helps hospitals “prioritize and focus on the patients that are coming in with this type of disease, versus those that are coming with seasonal flu,” she added.
What about those face masks?
Surgical masks offer some level of protection but only when worn properly. Experts recommend a snug-fitting N95 respirator (fig above), which blocks large-particle droplets and most small particles that are transmitted by coughs and sneezes, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These masks are usually available at most drugstores and home-improvement outlets.(you can shop the masks from our shop for those who need them for friends and families). BULK ORDERS ONLY!
That said, there is no need for them among the general public in the U.S. at this time, Messonnier said. And depleting supplies now will only make preventive efforts more complicated if the virus starts spreading in communities.
What about pets?
Global health officials say there’s no evidence, to date, that pets can get sick from the coronavirus that’s circulating the globe and infecting humans. And while the virus that causes COVID-19 “seems to have emerged from an animal source,” there’s also no indication that pets can pass it to people.
But it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after coming into contact with pets. “This protects you against various common bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can pass between pets and humans,” the WHO says.
What, exactly, is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses, named for their crownlike shape, are a large family of viruses that are common in many species of animals. Several coronaviruses can infect people, according to the CDC. These strains mostly cause cold-like symptoms but can sometimes progress to more complicated lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
On rare occasion, animal coronaviruses can evolve and spread among humans, as seen with MERS and SARS. The virus at the center of the latest outbreak is being referred to as a novel (new) coronavirus, since it’s something that health officials have not seen before.
To date, COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has sickened more than 93,000 people and killed nearly 3,000 (mostly in China). And the numbers continue to climb.
What is the U.S. doing to prepare for a potential outbreak?
Health officials have warned that though risk of infection from the coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan, China, in December is still low for the general American public, individuals and communities should be prepared for an outbreak.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Messonnier said.
In the absence of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or medication to treat it, health officials and government leaders are preparing for an outbreak with non-pharmacological interventions. What these interventions look like at the community level will vary, depending on local conditions.
“Social distancing” — avoiding crowds and staying home when you are sick — will likely be one of the top strategies recommended by officials. Depending on the severity of the situation, communities may see school closures, an increase in teleworking and the cancellation of mass gatherings. In areas where the illness is spreading, this is already happening.
In the health care setting, hospitals may need to triage patients differently, and providers may need to increase telehealth services and delay elective surgeries. Workers should be asking their employers if teleworking is an option. And people with children and grandchildren can check in with school systems about plans for teleschooling.
“All of these questions can help you be better prepared for what might happen,” Messonnier said.
Though these types of disruptions to everyday life seem “overwhelming and severe,” Messonnier emphasized these “are things people need to start thinking about now.”
The decision of what steps to implement when will be up to local officials. On Thursday, Congress agreed on an $8.3 billion bipartisan package to help provide funding to state and local health agencies.
“During an outbreak of a new virus, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Messonnier acknowledged. Guidance and advice will likely be “interim and fluid, subject to change as we learn more,” she added.
What’s the best way to protect myself?
The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to limit exposure. This means avoiding destinations that have reported spread of the virus, and thinking twice “before you expose yourself to someone who is showing symptoms,” the CDC’s Messonnier said.
Health officials also advise taking everyday steps that can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. Wash your hands often with soap and water (scrub for at least 20 seconds), and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap is not an option. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and cover your coughs and sneezes.
Some other advice: Stay home when you are sick, and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. “This is the other side of not spreading the disease, which is not catching it,” Messonnier said.
Is there anything I can do to prepare for an outbreak?
It’s never a bad idea to get your household ready for an emergency situation, including the spread of COVID-19. In addition to making sure you have “adequate supplies” of routine medications on hand, the CDC has a checklist for how best to prepare for a community outbreak.
Some of the steps include planning for ways to care for those who may be at greater risk for severe complications from the illness and identifying aid organizations in your community. You can also create an emergency contact list, if you don’t have one already. Talk with your employer and schools about plans for potential closures, and identify a room in your home that can be used to separate sick family members from healthy ones to minimize the risk of the illness spreading.
“Right now, especially, individual actions can have an important impact on how this situation plays out,” Messonnier said.
What about travel plans?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. government have declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency, and federal officials are warning Americans not to travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy due to a high number of COVID-19 cases.
The CDC also is advising travelers headed to Japan to exercise increased caution, and says older adults and people with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.
If you do travel to a country that’s experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases, the CDC recommends that you wash your hands often, avoid contact with sick people, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
The U.S. government is also encouraging citizens to reconsider travel by cruise ship to Asia. Those planning cruise travel to other international destinations should be prepared for strict screening procedures, the State Department says — even disruptions to travel itineraries. Passengers planning cruise vacations should contact their cruise line companies directly on the current rules and restrictions.
Because the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout the U.S. community is low at this time, there is no reason to fear or halt domestic travel plans, said public health expert Syra Madad, who serves as the senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at New York City Health + Hospitals.
So far, the CDC has not issued travel warnings for domestic destinations. Because the situation is constantly changing, make sure you get your travel advice from credible sources, such as the CDC and WHO, Madad said. There’s a lot of misinformation out there fueling unwarranted fear and anxiety.
“It’s important to stay informed, but it’s not a time to panic right now,” she added.