What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). A new virus called the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that began in China. The disease is called COVID-19.
There isn’t much known about this new virus yet. Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are monitoring the situation and posting updates on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations for preventing and treating the illness.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Signs and symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include:
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
The severity of the new coronavirus symptoms can range from very mild to severe, even death. Although understanding of this disease continues to grow, most people with severe illness have been of an older age or had other significant existing medical conditions. This is similar to what is seen in people who have severe infections with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.
What are the causes of COVID-19?
It’s unclear exactly how contagious the new coronavirus is or how it spreads. It appears to be spreading from person to person among those in close contact. It may be spread by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes.
It needs to be established if a person can catch the virus by touching a surface that an infected person has touched, and then putting his or her hand to the mouth. However air-borne transmission cannot be ruled out.
Which are the contributing risk factors of COVID-19?
Risk factors for infection with the new coronavirus appear to include:
- Recent travel from or residence in China
- Close contact with someone who has the new coronavirus — such as when a family member or health care worker takes care of an infected person
People who are older or who have other existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, may be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the new coronavirus.
How can we prevent spread of COVID-19?
Although there is no vaccines currently available to prevent infection with the new coronavirus, few preventive steps help to reduce risk of infection.
WHO and CDC recommends the following standard precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you often touch.
- Stay home from work, school and public areas if you are sick.
WHO also recommends to :
- Contact your doctor if you have a fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, and tell about your recent travel history.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or animal organs.
- Avoid contact with live animals and surfaces they may have touched if you are visiting live markets in areas that have recently had new coronavirus cases.
If you are planning to travel internationally, first check travel advisories. You may also want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.
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