What is it?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause disease in both animals and humans. They get their name for the distinctive crown-like spikes on the virus surface. While the virus typically causes mild cases of the common cold, it can bring on respiratory infections like pneumonia. The current coronavirus disease, officially known as COVID-19 (COVID-19 is the name of the disease, and SARS -CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes it), was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
What are the symptoms and how long does it last?
Symptoms for COVID-19, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure, include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and in severe cases, pneumonia (fluid in the lungs). The illness has been estimated to last between two to three weeks for those infected.
How serious is the virus?
Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. The mortality rate is reported at about 2 percent in the center of the outbreak in China, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1 percent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths worldwide annually. The 2002/2003 SARS epidemic had a death rate of more than 10 percent.
The World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11. As of March 23, there have been 334,981 confirmed cases in 190 countries, areas and territories and 14,652 deaths globally.
Across the U.S., there are more than 40,000 cases confirmed, 472 have died, and COVID-19 has spread to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), reports the number of positive cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in the state is 777 with 8,922 people tested, 1,168 people now under quarantine and 886 people who have completed monitoring and are no longer in quarantine. Nine people in Massachusetts have died from COVID-19.
Different parts of the country are seeing different levels of COVID-19 activity and according to the CDC, the U.S. is in the initiation phase of the pandemic. States in which community spread is occurring are in the acceleration phase. The duration and severity of each pandemic phase can vary depending on the characteristics of the virus and the public health response. Currently 27 states are reporting some community spread of COVID-19.
How does it spread?
Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses and are generally spread between people in close contact with one another (within 6 feet) and through respiratory secretions (droplets from coughs and sneezes) of an infected person to another person.
It may also 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 eyes. People with the coronavirus are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic and sick.
How to prevent the spread:
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID_19 coronavirus.The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following to prevent the spread of any respiratory disease, including the COVID-19.Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Stay home when you are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. But those who are sick or have symptoms should wear facemasks to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.
Is there a treatment?
There is no specific treatment for this novel coronavirus. Antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are not effective in treating viral infections like COVID-19. A trial of a coronavirus vaccine began March 16 in Seattle, one of the U.S. states hardest hit by the outbreak. Forty-five volunteers will get two doses of the test vaccine a month apart but even if successful would not be available for wide scale use for at least a year.
What to do if you are sick/have symptoms:
Call a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a cough or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread. Tell your doctor about your recent travel or contact. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19. Other steps to take:Stay home except to get medical care Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home Call ahead before visiting your doctor Wear a facemask Cover your coughs and sneezes Clean your hands often Avoid sharing personal household items Clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday Monitor symptoms and seek medical attention if your illness is worsening.
Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low; a decision that should be made in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
Where are the outbreaks occurring?
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.
According to the CDC, widespread transmission of COVID-19 coronavirus is occurring in China, South Korea, Iran, most European Countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland and people are being advised to avoid travel to these places. Most foreign nationals who have been in one of these countries during the previous 14 days will not be allowed to enter the United States.
Stay informed about the coronavirus:
Visit the Massachusetts Department of Health website for the latest local information on COVID-19. For information on the coronavirus in the U.S. check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Watch this World Health Organization video for more things to know about COVID-19.
Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/, https://www.mass.gov, www.theguardian.com/, https://health.usnews.com/, https://www.yalemedicine.org