A never-before-seen virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan has killed more than 80 people and infected more than 2,000 people worldwide, with both of these numbers expected to increase as more people are diagnosed with the illness.
The virus was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31st and is believed to have originated in a central food market area in the city of Wuhan, China.
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, a city about 650 miles south of Beijing has a population of more than 11 million people.
The market sells fish, as well as other meat from animals, including bats and snakes. The Wuhan market was shut down Jan. 1.
So far, French authorities confirmed three cases inside the country and Australia announced it has four.
In the U.S., several people have been infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, including a man in his 30s in Washington state, a Chicago woman in her 60s, a man in his 50s in California and another person in Arizona.
All the U.S. cases had recently traveled to Wuhan.
In Wuhan, public transportation and ride-hailing services have been suspended, trains and flights from the city have been stopped and people have been told to leave only for essential reasons.
Similar travel restrictions were announced in at least 11 other Chinese cities, impacting more than 40 million people.
At this point, a special World Health Organization committee decided it’s still too early to declare a public health emergency on a global level.
However, Hong Kong declared a citywide emergency, its highest warning level, canceling all official Chinese New Year celebrations and extending school breaks for the holiday.
The reality is, there is no question this virus is going to spread and we are going to see a lot more cases.
Unfortunately, at this point, the number of actual cases is likely skewed because the virus may not be accurately diagnosed.
With that being said, here is what you need to know (besides the obvious of not traveling to Wuhan.)
Symptoms. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as pneumonia to Middle East respiratory syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.
In other words, if you are feeling sick and have recently traveled through an airport or been around someone who recently traveled, you should seek medical care.
Transmission/ vaccine. The virus can be spread from animals to people and from people to people.
It is spread by coughing, sneezing and through close contact with an infected person or even an object carrying the virus.
There is no vaccine yet. However, scientists around the world, including the U.S., are currently working on a vaccine.
The problem is the development of a vaccine has just begun, meaning it will most likely be at least a year before we have an approved, readily available vaccine.
In addition, while there is no particular treatment for the coronavirus, recommended treatment is similar to those for cold, such as rest and drinking a lot of fluid.
In other words, doctors recommend treating the symptoms since there is nothing they can do to combat the virus.
Spreading in the U.S. Simply put, with the ease of global travel, the spread of any disease is only a plane ride away.
Passengers from Wuhan to the U.S. on direct or indirect flights, are only allowed to land at one of five U.S. airports, where health professionals with the CDC are screening them for symptoms.
Those airports are JFK, Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
These airport screenings might not catch everyone infected because the incubation period can last a week, so it can take a week after getting infected before showing any symptoms.
With confirmed cases now seen in different parts of the world, the best way to protect yourself is practicing good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene, similar to ways you avoid contracting the flu.
In addition, make sure you’ve got plenty of common cold medicine on hand.