Most people have been infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives.
Human coronaviruses usually cause the common cold, including symptoms like a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever.
There are coronaviruses that infect animals, too. Sometimes, although rarely, an animal coronavirus evolves to infect humans.
That appears to be the case with a new virus that has been making the news: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Health officials are on high alert and are screening people who have flown from Wuhan to the United States at several major U.S. airports.
So, should you be worried about coronavirus?
What is coronavirus?
There are four different human coronaviruses that commonly infect people. Those are the viruses that cause routine cold symptoms. There are also coronaviruses that are common in animals, such as bats and camels.
In the rare instance that an animal coronavirus evolves to be able to infect a human, the virus can cause more severe symptoms.
Experts believe that’s what happened with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which is causing infection in China. This virus is believed to have been transmitted from an animal in a seafood market in Wuhan City, China, to a human, likely when a person ate something infected with the virus.
Other strains of coronavirus that have spread from an animal to a human include Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which was first reported in Asia in 2003.
Both MERS and SARS cause severe illness, including fever, headache, body aches, coughing and diarrhea. While outbreaks of those viruses were widespread around the world, neither virus was widely spread in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only two people in the U.S. have ever tested positive for MERS, in May 2014. In 2003, only eight people in the United States had laboratory evidence of a SARS infection, and they had all traveled to places in the world where SARS had been spreading.
How does the 2019 Novel Coronavirus spread?
Human coronaviruses spread from person to person through the air, when an infected person coughs or sneezes; by close personal contact such as shaking hands; or by touching a contaminated surface or object then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
MERS and SARS also spread when people are in contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets or secretions, such as when the sick person coughs or sneezes, or by touching contaminated surfaces then touching their faces.
Authorities are working to determine how easily 2019 Novel Coronavirus spreads between people. As of Jan. 22, 2020, the CDC reports hundreds of people in China have been confirmed through lab testing to have the virus, and some have died from the illness.
The deaths and more severe symptoms of this new coronavirus were among older people with chronic disease, health officials report.
The CDC reports that, while it considers 2019 Novel Coronavirus a serious public health concern, based on current information, the general American public runs a low risk of contracting the virus.
Health officials are most concerned about people who have symptoms of the virus AND have either traveled from Wuhan City, China or been in close contact with someone who was ill and under investigation to have 2019 Novel Coronavirus or has been lab-confirmed to have 2019 Novel Coronavirus within the last 14 days.
What happens if you get the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?
Health officials say this new strain of coronavirus is causing severe symptoms but may be less severe than MERS and SARS.
Symptoms that have been reported include:
How can you avoid catching coronavirus?
While experts are still working to determine how 2019 Novel Coronavirus spreads from person to person, it would be wise to take precautions:
Edward-Elmhurst Health is closely monitoring the situation and all updates from the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health.
This blog was reviewed by Annemarie Schmocker, infection prevention manager at Elmhurst Hospital.
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