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Photo: Macau Photo Agency

By now, you probably know about the new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, a city in China with 11 million people. For reference, there are 12 million people in the entire state of Pennsylvania.

The virus is making itself known around the world. What you may not know is where it originated and what it actually is and what it really does. Keep in mind that this is an unfolding story, so new information is constantly being added. As of Wednesday, there were 12 cases confirmed in the U.S. including six in California, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois, one in Massachusetts, and one in Wisconsin. More than 80 other Americans were being tested for the virus. With more than 20,500 cases confirmed worldwide and at least 427 deaths, the vast majority of the infections, and all but two of the deaths, were in mainland China.

What is it? 

Well, it’s part of a family of viruses that are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Health officials have confirmed that the infection can be passed from person to person. Exactly how the virus first spread to humans is unclear, but both WHO and Chinese officials suspect an animal source as the most likely culprit. Chinese investigators confirmed that most of the initial patients visited a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, which was shut down in early January. 

What does it look like?

Patients infected with the new coronavirus typically present symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat, and breathing difficulties–with acute respiratory distress syndrome in severe cases. The virus causes pneumonia in those who contract it. Symptoms of coronavirus may not show up until up to a week after contracting the virus, Most symptoms begin to appear between three and six days after infection. As scary as it may seem, although it is in the same family as SARS and MERS, it’s important to note that symptoms appear less severe than those seen during the SARS outbreak nearly two decades ago. 

How does it spread?

While most of the cases have been confined to China, cases in this fast-moving outbreak have now been found in the United States, Hong Kong, Malaysia, France, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Japan, and the Philippines. The CDC warns that human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

  • the air by coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
  • rarely, fecal contamination

How to avoid it?

WHO and CDC’s official standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include all the basic common sense techniques: 

  • regular hand washing 
  • covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. 
  • avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

While the WHO has introduced no restriction on travel or trade regarding Wuhan, Chinese health experts advise avoiding travel to Wuhan, while residents of the city should avoid traveling elsewhere. They also recommend wearing masks and getting adequate sleep.

In a study done by Imperial College London, author Professor Neil Ferguson, states, “While it would make controlling spread more difficult, it would mean that severe disease only happens rarely — meaning this virus might pose less of a public health threat than some currently worry about.”

Just like every other outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic that has occurred, it’s vital that we don’t panic and turn this into doomsday. With advances in modern-day medicine and good old fashioned common-sense hygiene practices, we are well equipped to face and manage this latest nuisance. Do not let fear lead you. Stay at peace and stay aware. 

And don’t forget: Wash your hands!

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