The number of people affected by the current outbreak of the coronavirus continues to rise, as does the number of deaths. No longer is the infection limited to China. The incidence has now been reported in several countries around the world, including the United States.
What really is a coronavirus and what symptoms is it likely to produce? In this article, we discuss these, along with everything you need to know about the 2019-2020 Wuhan outbreak.
A coronavirus is a type of virus that typically brings about an infection in the nose, sinuses, and upper throat. The majority of strains do not pose a significant threat to health.
While most coronaviruses are not overly perilous, there are some that can lead to serious medical conditions. They include the viruses responsible for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), plus the latest Wuhan coronavirus. These rare strains can result in fatalities.
The coronavirus, which was first fully described in the 1960s, gets its name from the Latin term “corona,” which means crown or halo. This is in reference to a “crown of sugary-proteins” projecting from an envelope encircling it.
The Wuhan Outbreak
In December 2019, the latest coronavirus outbreak started in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, China. The new strain called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified by Chinese health authorities on January 7, 2020.
Prior to this time, the novel coronavirus had not been seen in humans. Scientists know little about it at this time, including how it found its way into humans.
Thousands of infections with the 2019-nCoV have been reported in China since the outbreak started. The number of deaths is gradually approaching 400 in the Asian country alone, as of writing.
There are also now cases of infection beyond the borders of China.
The symptoms of infection with this virus are comparable to those of a severe cold. An infection results in mild-to-moderate signs of upper respiratory issues.
- A runny nose
- Sore throat
- Severe cough
- Difficulty breathing
These signs could easily be confused for a different health issue.
In severe cases, those infected may suffer pneumonia, kidney failure, and impaired liver function. It could result in serious disorders, such as SARS, or even lead to death.
Viruses of this kind mostly spread through aerosol droplets released into the air by infected persons when coughing or sneezing. You may also get infected by touching the face or hands of a patient or by touching something they have touched.
Scientists do not fully know the incubation period of the virus at the moment. However, this is believed to be about 10-14 days.
Coronaviruses typically have their origins in animals. They are common in diverse species, including bats and camels. It is from these sources that they find their way into humans.
The larger portion of coronaviruses exists only in animals. But, in rare cases, the viruses evolve to infect humans. They then proceed to spread from one person to another.
The current Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is believed to have started at a seafood market. According to reports, traders also sold wildlife illegally there.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also believes that animals are the most likely source of the virus.
Some Chinese scientists said the virus likely came from snakes, although other experts dispute this.
Most recently, Chinese officials disclosed that the 2019-nCoV showed considerable similarity to a known coronavirus in bats.
There are more known coronaviruses currently circulating only in animals. Scientists fear that some of these disease-causing agents might mutate and become infectious to humans in the future.
The highest incidence and deaths from the latest coronavirus outbreak are in China. More specifically, the majority of cases are in Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located.
However, cases are also now being reported in a growing number of countries around the world. The infection has spread to several countries in Asia. It is now in North America, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East as well.
Almost all the cases of infection outside China involved people who recently traveled to the country.
As of writing, the number of people with the virus in the U.S. has reached double digits. The latest is a couple in San Benito County, California – the husband returned recently from Wuhan.
More than 17,300 coronavirus cases have been reported across different countries in the latest outbreak.
The epidemic has proven to be about as deadly in China as the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, which claimed almost 800 lives worldwide. For now, the total number of deaths from the 2019-nCoV stands at over 360 in China.
Yet, some experts do not consider the Wuhan coronavirus as deadly as other types, such as the SARS and MERS viruses.
The number of infection cases in the Asian country has also outstripped those reported during the SARS outbreak.
The only death recorded outside of China so far occurred in the Philippines. It involved a Chinese man from Wuhan who had recently traveled there.
What are the Authorities Doing to Curb the Spread?
The 2019-nCoV outbreak is now a global health emergency, according to WHO. The international health body made the decision to designate it thus as a result of reports of human-to-human transmission beyond China.
Following this warning, countries are expected to take apt steps, under the guidance of the WHO, to curtail the further spread.
WHO says it’s working in close alliance with scientists to quickly build knowledge on the virus. It is also working directly with partners and governments across the globe to track and curb the spread.
Authorities in China have practically cordoned off Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. Travel has been restricted to and from the city.
In addition, there are travel bans to and from some other Chinese cities.
Some countries have evacuated their nationals from Wuhan and/or banned people from China from entering.
The U.S. now bars foreign citizens who have traveled to China in the previous two weeks from entering. According to the White House, the coronavirus has become a national public health emergency.
American citizens returning to the U.S. from China’s Hubei Province will be put under enforced quarantine. This will last for 14 days, the supposed incubation period for the virus.
U.S. nationals who have been to other parts of China in the past two weeks will be screened on arrival back in America. Officials will also urge them to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days, WebMD reports. Such persons will have their movements closely watched as well.
What Can You Do?
There is currently no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus. The most you can do is to guard against being infected.
You can prevent infection through the same measures you would use to protect yourself against the common cold. These include:
- Avoiding close contact with infected individuals
- Carefully washing your hands with warm water and soap or a hand sanitizer (an alcohol-based type)
- Refraining from putting your hands or fingers in your eyes, nose, or mouth
Persons with coronavirus infection can try to subdue it by getting plenty of bed rest while avoiding contact. They can take certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications to combat symptoms, such as fever or sore throat. Proper hydration is also critical.
Medical experts say that healthy adults in America or elsewhere need not worry much about the infection type common in the country. You may be able to get over this on your own using measures such as the ones mentioned above.
Of course, you should consult your doctor if you are afraid or if the symptoms do not abate after whatever steps you might have taken on your own.