What Is Coronavirus: Cases, Symptoms, And How To Avoid It

Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of cases, the symptoms, and how to avoid contracting the disease.
Civil protection volunteers engaged in health checks at the “Milano Malpensa” airport. – Milan, Italy, 5 February 5, 2020 (Dipartimento Protezione Civile/Creative Commons)

Civil protection volunteers engaged in health checks at the “Milano Malpensa” airport. – Milan, Italy, 5 February 5, 2020 (Dipartimento Protezione Civile/Creative Commons)

Updated April 2

Coronavirus, specifically novel coronavirus or COVID-19, is currently sweeping the globe and has infected over one million people worldwide in at least 151 countries. The World Health Organization is now categorizing the recent coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, as a global pandemic.

Learn more about the coronavirus including the symptoms of illness, where the outbreaks are occurring, and how to get tested.

What is the coronavirus?

There are many types of coronavirus, some of which are often circulated among humans and cause only mild symptoms of cold or illness. This most recent outbreak is a novel coronavirus or one that has not previously been identified. The name of the disease caused by coronavirus has been shortened to COVID-19 where “Co” stands for corona, “Vi” for virus and “D” for disease. COVID-19 is the name for the respiratory illness, but the virus itself is referred to as SARS-CoV-2 or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like protein spikes that protrude from the surface of the virus. Coronaviruses are part of a family of viruses that include SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

Where are cases of the coronavirus?

The source of COVID-19 has been traced back to a market in Wuhan, China where animals sold there are believed to have been infected by the virus, possibly through contact with bats. Bats are hosts for zoonotic viruses including Ebola and HIV. Since the initial outbreak, the virus has mutated into two distinct strains referred to as the L or S type.

The first known human case of coronavirus is believed to have occurred in Wuhan in late November 2019. In just a few short weeks, COVID-19 swept through the city causing widespread infection. On January 23, 2020, the Chinese government put the city of Wuhan on lockdown in an attempt to control and contain the virus.

While China’s outbreak has since stabilized, cases of coronavirus have exploded in other areas across the globe. Over one million people worldwide have contracted COVID-19, with large clusters of outbreaks in Italy, Iran, Spain, South Korea, France, Germany, and the United States. While a sizable percentage of those who contracted coronavirus have since recovered, tens of thousands of people have died as a result of COVID-19. The United States now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world. You can find a state-by-state breakdown of cases in the United States here.

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How To Avoid Getting Coronavirus

Because COVID-19 is a new coronavirus infection or “novel” coronavirus, there is no vaccine currently available. Research has indicated that this coronavirus can live in the air for several hours and up to three days on some surfaces, making it particularly virulent. The unusually long incubation period in which humans might be able to transmit the virus without suffering symptoms of infection can be 14 days or longer. So even if you’re not in a vulnerable group, take precautions.

In order to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, infectious disease experts at the CDC and the WHO recommend the following:

  • Wash Your Hands. As with most viruses, the best way to avoid contracting the virus is to practice good hygiene. This starts with washing your hands vigorously, thoroughly, and frequently with both soap and water. If you’re in an environment where handwashing isn’t possible, using hand sanitizer with 60% or higher alcohol content is an acceptable substitute.
  • Keep Your Distance. Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. Standing six feet away from others at all times, even if they don’t appear to be sick, should place you out of reach of those potentially infectious droplets.
  • Practice Social Distancing. Avoiding large gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, schools, and even shopping malls has been shown to slow the spread of infection. Some communities may find it necessary to limit gatherings of 50 or more to avoid large scale outbreaks.
  • Wear a Mask When Sick. If you’re the one sneezing and coughing, cover-up. While most masks won’t protect you from becoming infected, they’re helpful for preventing your respiratory droplets from reaching others nearby.
  • Keep it clean. Disinfect your home, car, and any frequently touched surface such as countertops, computers, toilets, and faucets. You can refer to the EPA’s list of environmentally safe disinfectants for more information about which household cleaners are most effective against coronavirus.

While some frightened citizens have paid exorbitant prices to get specialized masks with filters to protect themselves from the coronavirus, those masks are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers who are more likely to come in direct contact with the virus. Those masks also do more to prevent people who have the virus from spreading it than they do for people who are trying to avoid it.

What are coronavirus symptoms?

Because coronavirus shares some of the same symptoms as the common cold or seasonal flu, it can be tricky to identify. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are as follows:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath

Some of those infected with coronavirus have also reported a sore throat, body aches, and vomiting or diarrhea but these symptoms are less common. For the majority of those infected with coronavirus, symptoms will be mild and pass within a few days with rest and plenty of fluids.

Children under the age of 9 are rarely affected by the virus and can often be asymptomatic or show no symptoms of the virus even when infected. However, those with underlying illnesses or older populations can have more severe cases of COVID-19 that can lead quickly to acute pneumonia, multiple organ failure, and even death.

How is coronavirus different from the flu?

While there are some overlapping symptoms, there are also distinct differences between the symptoms caused by coronavirus and those of flu. Below is a comparison table of the symptoms of coronavirus, cold, flu, and allergies. Note that things like itchy eyes are almost certainly indicative of allergies while sneezing points towards either allergies or the common cold as the source of your symptoms.

Symptom Coronavirus Cold Flu Allergies
Fever Yes Rarely Yes No
Cough Yes Sometimes Yes Sometimes
Fatigue Yes Sometimes Yes Sometimes
Shortness of Breath Yes Rarely Yes Sometimes
Muscle Aches Yes Sometimes Yes No
Headache Sometimes Rarely Yes Sometimes
Sore Throat Sometimes Yes Sometimes Yes
Stuffy or runny nose Rarely Yes Sometimes Yes
Sneezing No Yes Sometimes Yes
Itchy Eyes No No No Yes

While the flu does claim many lives every year, vaccines and advances in healthcare have enabled us to combat the seasonal flu with some success. This is not the case with coronavirus, which poses the most risk to those over 80 years of age or anyone with an underlying condition such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung or liver disease.

Current mortality rates for the flu hover around .8% for those over 65, while coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2.3% and as high as 6% for those 60 and older. Some experts suspect that coronavirus rates will change as additional testing provides a better sense of the scope of the pandemic.

How To Get Tested For Coronavirus

Currently, your ability to get tested for COVID-19 largely relies upon the country that you live in. In places like South Korea, testing is widespread which has contributed to a lower overall mortality rate. In the United States, testing through the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for coronavirus has been problematic and sluggish, resulting in large clusters of outbreaks in Washington and DC where community spread occurred. The testing outlook is improving in the United States as more kits become available and drive-thru testing centers become more widespread.

If you do have symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath and have recently traveled domestically or internationally, you should stay at home and contact your doctor either over the phone or online. Many clinics are offering online doctor’s appointments or hotlines to evaluate symptoms in a safe environment and refer patients for further testing. If, however, you do have severe symptoms such as chest pain or pressure, confusion or intense sleepiness, and/or bluish lips or face, you should contact the nearest emergency room and seek medical help immediately.

How does the coronavirus pandemic compare to past coronavirus epidemics?

There have been many comparisons between the COVID-19 pandemic and other historic outbreaks of SARS, MERS, and even Spanish Flu. While viruses like SARS and MERS share some characteristics with novel coronavirus, there are distinct differences in the paths each outbreak has taken.

MERS and SARS both have mortality rates that are significantly higher than COVID-19, but the outbreaks have been far less widespread. SARS and MERS outbreaks occurred in about 30 different countries, which is a much smaller share of the world than the 114 countries that are currently experiencing the COVID-19 outbreak. While SARS has a mortality rate of nearly 10% and MERS a whopping 35%, COVID-19’s 3.4% mortality rate has taken nearly 10 times as many lives overall because of the scope of the virus spread.

This novel coronavirus pandemic may more closely resemble the Spanish Flu mortality rate in 1918 and 1919 by the time it is contained. Spanish Flu resulted in an overall mortality rate of 2.5% although it’s estimated to have affected as many as one-third of the world’s population at the time.

The Rantt Rundown

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is a pandemic that is reshaping the world’s approach to infectious diseases Estimates are as many as 40-60% of the world’s population may contract the virus, resulting in millions of deaths but potentially lowering the overall mortality rate to less than 1%. Around the world, countries are working to combat the spread of the virus with social distancing and working furiously to develop a vaccine to protect vulnerable populations from future coronavirus outbreaks.

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Rantt 101 // CDC / Coronavirus / Health / Healthcare / Science