What is the Coronavirus?

Illustration by Krystal Chen

Krystal Chen
Staff Writer

As the coronavirus, a new version of highly transmissible disease named “2019-nCoV” continues to surge and spread in China, at 5­ p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, the United States officially put into effect stringent travel restrictions on people traveling from China.

The 2019-nCoV was first identified in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019. The disease first occurred within a group of people who had been associated with a seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.

The accurate dynamic behind the transmission of the disease has not yet been determined. However, the World Health Organization has been cooperating with global experts and governments to report the spread and virulence of the virus, and to expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, thus providing more advice to countries and individuals on measures to effectively prevent the spread of this outbreak.

The current knowledge about this novel virus, a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans, is mainly based on scientists’ past understanding of and experience with similar coronaviruses — MERS and SARS. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in many different species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, infection with 2019-nCoV can also lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even death. 

Similar to the ordinary spread of respiratory infections, the rapid person-to-person transmission of 2019-nCoV is speculated to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It’s currently unclear if a person can get 2019-nCoV by indirect contact, such as touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

While, according to the current report, the immediate risk of the new virus to the American public seems to be low, everyone should respond to this emerging public health threat by protecting yourself from contacting the virus through any means.

To be specific, some common protection advice is: 

  • Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap.
  • Maintain at least 3 feet of social distance between yourself and other people.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and cross-contamination with uncooked meat.
  • Avoid the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products.