Person wearing protective mask in airport

With almost 8,000 cases of reported individuals with coronavirus in China resulting in more than 200 confirmed deaths there, how worried should Americans be? 

According to data as of Feb. 3 from the Virginia Department of Health, there are a total of five individuals being investigated in Virginia as potentially having novel coronavirus. Three from Central Virginia (two have tested negative, one pending) and two from Northern Virginia (both tested negative).  

The Virginia Department of Health is monitoring the outbreak of the respiratory illness. It is caused by a new virus called coronavirus (termed “2019-nCoV”) that was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Chinese health officials have reported thousands of infections with 2019-nCoV in China, including outside of Hubei Province. Infections with 2019-nCoV also are being reported in a growing number of countries internationally, including the United States, where the first 2019-nCoV infection was detected in a traveler returning from Wuhan on Jan. 21 

The State Department on Thursday, Jan. 30 warned Americans not to travel to China due to the "rapidly spreading" coronavirus outbreak. The decision comes after the World Health Organization designated the outbreak as a global health emergency in an attempt to get more resources and global coordination to fight it. 

Early on, many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting person-to-person spread is occurring. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people, according to the VHD. 

The following questions about the coronavirus are answered here with information from the VDH:  

What are coronaviruses? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect humans or animals. Sometimes an animal coronavirus can change so that it can infect people and become a human coronavirus.  

There are seven known types of human coronaviruses. Four types (229E, NL63, OC43, and KHU1) are common and cause mild to moderate respiratory infections, like the common cold. Two types, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), can cause severe respiratory infections.  

The seventh type (2019-nCoV) is the coronavirus recently discovered in China. Public health officials are trying to learn more about this new virus and the infection it causes. 

Who gets coronavirus infections? 

Most people become infected with coronaviruses that cause the common cold at some point during their lives. These infections often occur in the fall or winter. 

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a type of coronavirus infection discovered in China in 2002. The virus that causes SARS quickly spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia before it was controlled. During the 2002-2003 outbreak, nearly 8,100 people became infected. In the United States, eight people with laboratory-confirmed SARS infection were identified they had traveled to areas where the virus was spreading. Since 2004, no cases of SARS have been reported in the world. 

Another type of coronavirus infection is Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Since it was discovered in 2012, nearly 2,500 people with MERS have been identified. All these cases have been linked to travel to or residence in and near the Arabian Peninsula. Countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula include Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Two people in the United States have had MERS and both traveled to Saudi Arabia where they likely became infected. 

How do coronaviruses spread? 

Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, close personal contact (such as caring for or living with an infected person), or touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth or eyes before washing your hands. Three human coronaviruses (SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and 2019-nCoV) are also thought to spread from infected animals to people through contact. 

What are the symptoms of coronavirus infections? 

Coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms, such as runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, and fever. Sometimes, coronaviruses can cause more severe infections, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs), kidney failure, or even death. 

How soon after exposure do symptoms occur? 

It depends on the type of coronavirus. In general, symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. 

How are coronavirus infections diagnosed? 

Special laboratory tests for respiratory or blood samples are needed to diagnose coronavirus infection. This testing is more likely to be used if you have severe symptoms or if your infection might be caused by an uncommon strain of coronavirus like MERS-CoV. 

What is the treatment for coronaviruses? 

There is no specific treatment for coronavirus infections. Treatment consists of supportive care and relief of symptoms. 

How can coronavirus infection be prevented? 

A vaccine to prevent coronavirus infection is not currently available. People should follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses of any kind: 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash your hands especially after coughing and sneezing, before and after caring for an ill person, and before preparing foods and before eating. 

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw the tissue in the trash. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 

  • Avoid close contact (such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils) with people who are sick. 

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick. 

  • Stay home when you are sick, except when you need to get medical care. 

  • Wash hands after animal contact and after visiting farms, markets, barns, petting zoos, and agricultural fairs. 

  • Avoid contact with animals who are sick. 

How can I learn more about coronaviruses? 



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(1) comment


Also avoid buying a live racoon for dinner from a dirt floor market in China.

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