COVID-19 is an ever-changing topic in the news and other outlets, but, to date, the coronavirus has sparked panic around the globe, shutting down schools, sporting events and entire communities as scientists scramble to try to control the virus.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization characterized coronavirus as a pandemic. Since then, travel between countries has become heavily restricted and parts of certain countries are on lockdown, as are various states in the U.S.
But although it has become a global problem, there are plenty of steps you can take locally to help neither contract this highly contagious virus nor spread it. This includes practicing cough etiquette, washing your hands frequently and keeping your distance from others who are sick to prevent the spread of germs.
This article will take a closer look at the coronavirus, including what it is, what we know about it to date and what scientists are working on to help contain and combat it.
What Is the Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses found in a variety of mammals and birds. In humans. These viruses can cause a number of conditions, ranging from mild respiratory infections to more serious illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus that was recently identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means that they can be transmitted from animals to humans. SARS, for example, is believed to have originated from civet cats while MERS was first transmitted to humans from dromedary camels.
Like other respiratory infections, coronaviruses can also be spread from person-to-person through contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, blood or urine. Although the first reported case was in China, scientists have still not traced where exactly COVID-19 originated.
COVID-19 appears to be highly transmissible, and those who are infected can pass the virus onto others even before symptoms present. Although people can shed the virus for weeks after infection, research suggests that it’s most contagious in the early stages. According to a recent study published, the virus can also live on surfaces for 2–3 days and may even survive in the air for up to three hours.
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially upgraded the status of coronavirus from an epidemic to a pandemic, marking the first time an outbreak has received this classification since the emergence of H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009. A pandemic is defined as an epidemic that “occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”
Although many online sources have stated that products like white vinegar and homemade hand sanitizers can kill off the virus, there is still no evidence to support these claims. Therefore, until a vaccine or treatment is released for the virus, taking a few basic protective measures is prudent.
Where Has It Spread in the U.S. and World?
COVID-19 has spread rapidly within the past few weeks, with confirmed cases reported in every continent around the globe. As of March 11, there were eight countries with over 1,000 cases of coronavirus, including:
- South Korea
- United States
Within the U.S., 38 people have died from coronavirus as of March 12, 2020, and states like Washington, New York, California and Massachusetts have been hit the hardest. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19, with more emerging every day.
Now that we’ve covered what exactly coronavirus is and where it has spread, let’s take a closer look at this pandemic by the numbers:
- As of March 11, 2020, there are 118,322 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, 68 percent of which are in China.
- The global death toll for the virus currently stands at 4,292.
- There have been 696 confirmed cases of coronavirus among passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, along with 7 deaths.
- In the United States, 38 states have confirmed cases of COVID-19, including Washington, New York and California.
- Symptoms can emerge between 2–14 days after infection.
- Without containment measures such as quarantine, it’s estimated that an infected person could spread the virus to 1.5–3.5 people.
- Although the virus can infect anyone, the mortality rate increases with age. Those who are in their 50s, for example, are three times as likely to die from coronavirus as those in their 40s. Meanwhile, older adults over 80 have a mortality rate of nearly 15 percent.
- The World Health Organization has appointed 16 COVID-19 referral laboratories around the globe, including in countries like Australia, Senegal, France, Russia, India and the U.S., among others.
The symptoms of coronavirus are often mild and similar to other respiratory infections, including the common cold. While some people may exhibit no symptoms, symptoms usually appear anywhere from three days to 13 days after contracting the virus.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
In severe cases, coronavirus may also cause more serious issues, including pneumonia, kidney failure, severe acute respiratory syndrome or even death.
If you experience any symptoms like fever, cough or difficulty breathing and have recently traveled from an area with an ongoing spread or have been in contact with someone who is infected, the CDC recommends staying home and notifying your healthcare provider.
The FDA recently approved a test that is able to quickly diagnose COVID-19 by collecting samples from the nose, throat or lungs. In the U.S., there are 79 public health labs in all 50 states that are currently conducting COVID-19 diagnostic tests.
If your healthcare provider suspects that you may be infected, they will contact the CDC for further instructions on testing and may refer you to a special lab.
How to Protect Yourself
Taking a few basic protective measures against infection is a simple strategy that can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few steps that you can take to protect yourself and others.
1. Wash hands frequently
Wash your hands regularly using either soap and water or an alcohol-based rub, which can help kill off any viruses and prevent the spread of germs. Be sure to wash hands for at least 20 seconds before eating and after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or using the bathroom.
If soap and water is not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
2. Maintain distance
Ideally, try to maintain at least three feet of distance from others if you are in a community where COVID-19 is spreading. This can help prevent you from breathing in any liquid droplets containing the virus, which can be sprayed through the nose or mouth through coughing and sneezing.
3. Clean and disinfect surfaces
Viruses can live on surfaces for several days at a time. Washing and disinfecting surfaces that you regularly use can help block the spread of germs to prevent infection.
The CDC recommends using EPA-registered household disinfectants, including alcohol or diluted bleach solutions.
4. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
Your hands can pick up viruses from the surfaces that you touch. Touching your face with unwashed hands can transfer these germs, which can then enter the body and cause infection.
5. Practice cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene
Coughing or sneezing into the bend of your elbow or using a tissue to cover your mouth can help prevent the spread of germs and viruses. Be sure to also dispose of used tissues immediately and wash your hands thoroughly after exposure to any respiratory secretions.
6. Wear a face mask if sick
If you are sick, you should wear a face mask before entering a healthcare provider’s office and anytime you’re around others. If you’re not sick, the CDC advises only using a face mask if caring for someone who is sick. Because face masks are in short supply, they should be reserved for caregivers and healthcare providers.
7. Stock up on supplies
Although health authorities do not recommend using a face mask unless you’re actually sick or in direct contact with those who are infected, you may want to stock up on other household supplies and anything else you regularly use for your health.
Ideally, you should have a 30-day supply of essentials, including laundry detergent, soap, diapers and pantry staples.
8. Stay up-to-date to make sure the virus is not in your region
Find and bookmark the website of your local health department, which can help you stay up-to-date with the latest news and ensure that you know who to contact in case of infection.
9. Seek medical attention early
If you’re not feeling well, it’s best to stay home to avoid infecting others. If you experience more serious side effects like cough, fever or shortness of breath, contact your own health provider or local health authority to determine the next steps.
Coronavirus Outlook, to Date
There is still a lot that is unknown about the “novel” or new coronavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is currently no specific treatment for COVID-19. Those who are infected can receive medical care to help alleviate symptoms, which may also include care to support vital organ functions in more severe cases.
There are no approved treatments for coronaviruses and very few effective antiviral medications in general. Additionally, developing new drugs can require a massive investment in terms of time, money and resources, which can make it challenging to find medical treatments against COVID-19.
On March 6, President Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending bill into law to provide emergency funding to develop treatments and enact public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause a range of different symptoms.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a new strain of virus that was recently identified in humans and can cause symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
- Until new treatments and therapies are developed, however, it’s important to wash your hands frequently, maintain distance from others who are sick, disinfect surfaces, practice respiratory hygiene and seek medical care immediately if you are sick.
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