The virus can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Hand-washing is a first line of defence
How is the coronavirus spread?
The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is a new illness and scientists are still assessing how it spreads from person to person, but similar viruses tend to spread via cough and sneeze droplets.
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they release droplets of saliva or mucus. These droplets can fall on people in the vicinity and can be either directly inhaled or picked up on the hands then transferred when someone touches their face, causing infection. For flu, some hospital guidelines define exposure as being within six feet of an infected person who sneezes or coughs for 10 minutes or longer.
How to protect yourself and others
Wash your hands: wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Lather your hands, including the backs, between your fingers, and under your nails and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the bin and wash your hands. If you do not have a tissue to hand, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands.
Face masks offer some protection as they block liquid droplets. However, they do not block smaller aerosol particles that can pass through the material of the mask. The masks also leave the eyes exposed and there is evidence that some viruses can infect a person through the eyes.
Seek early medical help if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share your travel history with healthcare providers.
If visiting live markets in affected areas avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces that have been in contact with animals.
If you are in an affected area avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
If you have returned from an affected area in China in the last two weeks, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people for 14 days. This means not going to work, school or public areas.
If you have returned from an infected area and develop a high temperature, cough, runny nose, sore throat or difficulty breathing do not leave your home until you have been given advice by a doctor.
COVID-19 coronavirus is seen in yellow, emerging from cells (in blue and pink) cultured in the lab. This image is from a scanning electron microscope.NIAID-RML
The images of the current outbreak of the new coronavirus have so far been very human: air travelers wearing masks, tourists stranded on cruise ships, medical workers wearing protective suits.
But new images of the virus show us what it looks like up close.
These images were made using scanning and transmission electron microscopes at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont. NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health.
This image from a scanning electron microscope shows, in orange, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. The virus was isolated from a patient in the U.S. and is seen here emerging from the surface of cells — in gray — cultured in the lab.NIAID-RML
Emmie de Wit, chief of NIAID’s Molecular Pathogenesis Unit, provided the virus samples. Microscopist Elizabeth Fischer produced the images, and the lab’s visual medical arts office digitally colorized the images.
In this image from a scanning electron microscope, the new coronavirus is in orange.NIAID-RML
NIAID notes that the images look rather similar to previous coronavirus MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2012) and the original SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2002).
“That is not surprising: The spikes on the surface of coronaviruses give this virus family its name – corona, which is Latin for ‘crown,’ and most any coronavirus will have a crown-like appearance,” the institute explains in a blog post.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization formally named the disease caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19.
There have been more than 47,000 laboratory-confirmed cases so far and more than 1,300 deaths. Cases have been documented in 25 countries, but the vast majority are in China.
This image of the virus is from a transmission electron microscope.NIAID-RML
China’s Hubei province expanded its criteria for identifying new coronavirus cases on Thursday, which led to a major spike in reported cases there. The province added a new category to its reporting: “clinical cases.” That means patients will be counted if they exhibit all the symptoms — which include fever, cough and shortness of breath — but have either not been tested or tested negative for the virus itself.
That sudden spike, caused by the change in reporting, may complicate efforts to track the disease’s progression in China.
Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?
No. Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.
Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?
No. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth). Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.
Is it safe to receive a letter or a package from China?
Yes, it is safe. People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus. From previous analysis, we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.
Can pets at home spread the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV)?
At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.
Can regularly rinsing your nose with saline help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
No. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus.
There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.
Does putting on sesame oil block the new coronavirus from entering the body?
No. Sesame oil does not kill the new coronavirus. There are some chemical disinfectants that can kill the 2019-nCoV on surfaces. These include bleach/chlorine-based disinfectants, either solvents, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and chloroform.
However, they have little or no impact on the virus if you put them on the skin or under your nose. It can even be dangerous to put these chemicals on your skin.
Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?
People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.
Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus?
To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.
New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are other examples – severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.
What are the symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus?
The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission, and there have been human-to-human transmissions in the US and in Germany. As of 4 February, the death toll in China from the virus has increased to 425, with confirmed cases passing 20,000. The mortality rate stands at 2.1%. The official Chinese figures include Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Outside China, infections stand at more than 150.Advertisement
Two members of one family have been confirmed to have the virus in the UK, after more than 400 were tested and found negative. The Foreign Office has urged UK citizens to leave China if they can.
The number of people to have contracted the virus could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by World Health Organization (WHO) experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.
Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?
We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2%. However, this is likely to be an overestimate since many more people are likely to have been infected by the virus but not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital, and so have not been counted. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.
Another key unknown, of which scientists should get a clearer idea in the coming weeks, is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.
Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?
Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell. Some individual GP surgeries are advising people against visiting if they have recently been to China – and to consult their doctor by phone instead.
Is the outbreak a pandemic?
Health experts are starting to say it could become a pandemic, but right now it falls short of what the WHO would consider to be one. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in about 25 countries outside China, but by no means in all 195 on the WHO’s list. It is also not spreading within those countries at the moment, except in a very few cases. By far the majority are travellers who picked up the virus in China.
Should we panic?
No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.
Healthcare workers could be at risk if they unexpectedly came across someone with respiratory symptoms who had travelled to an affected region. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.