National Consumers League

Understanding the rapidly emerging disease, Coronavirus

Nissa Shaffi

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Coronavirus as a global health emergency. The virus first emerged from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, in December 2019. Since then, it has paralyzed several cities around the world, metastasizing into a global public health and economic crisis.

Coronavirus, officially renamed COVID-19 by WHO, is a member of a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe, life-threatening conditions. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people (zoonotic). There have been only two prior coronaviruses that have exhibited zoonotic transmission, which include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Secure Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has not previously presented in humans. With nearly 80,000 confirmed cases across 37 countries—which resulted in over 2,700 deaths—WHO warns that COVID-19 is likely to become a global pandemic. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is inevitable and could cause severe disruptions to everyday life.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 

Risk Factors

Based on surveillance of COVID-19 thus far, it appears that the virus is nondiscriminatory, and anyone could be at risk for contracting the virus.

Symptoms

According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 may range from two to 14 days, and symptoms include high fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the virus develops into pneumonia, which presents the most danger.

Transmission

The method of transmission is suspected to be from person to person via droplets resulting from breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The virus is also suspected to be transmitted via contaminated surfaces. WHO recommends maintaining a distance of at least one meter (three feet) between yourself and anyone who presents the symptoms mentioned above.

Precautions

WHO recommends regular hand washing with either an alcohol-based gel or soap and water to prevent the spread of infection. Individuals should also cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and should avoid close contact with anyone showing similar symptoms of respiratory illness. Additionally, while getting the flu shot cannot protect you from contracting COVID-19, it does protect you from the flu, a condition that has a far higher mortality rate than COVID-19.

Travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that older and at-risk travelers limit travel to Japan, Italy, and Iran, where the disease is rapidly gaining ground. CDC has also explicitly advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China. For more information on CDC’s travel advisories, please click here.

Although the rapid spread of the disease is concerning, the promising news is that the number of new cases in China has dropped–indicating that aggressive interventions deployed by health officials in the region are working. While there are international efforts underway to develop treatments for COVID-19, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid exposure. For more information on prevention against COVID-19, click here and here.