What is a coronavirus?
“Corona means ‘crown,’ so these viruses appear crown-shaped when looked at under an electron microscope,” said Bhanu Sud, MD, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Medical Center in Placentia, California.
“Most coronaviruses are harmless,” he said. “They’ll usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people will get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives.”
Sud emphasizes that while the outlook is good for most people infected with this type of virus, the SARS and the MERS strains are more serious.
The death rate is around 10 percent for people with SARS and 30 percent for those with the MERS variant.
“What is unknown right now is the virus being typed. They’re doing testing to find out what type of virus this is and whether it’s more similar to SARS or MERS,” Bhayani said. “I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a new virus.”
China has started to shut down flights and trains from Wuhan effectively quarantining a city of millions, according to reports. This comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday when tens of millions of people often travel home in China.
According to an earlier translated report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission: “Experts advise that the city is currently in the season of a high incidence of infectious diseases in winter and spring. Citizens should pay attention to maintaining indoor air circulation, avoiding closed and airless public places and crowded places, and wear masks if necessary.”
“It seems to be a coronavirus, but it requires more time for fully understanding it,” Sud said. “Any infection anywhere in the world is always a risk for every country because international travel has become so easy now.”
He adds this is why early detection and quarantine are essential measures in halting the transmission of these infections.
According to Sud, human coronaviruses most commonly transmit from an infected person to others via:
- the air by coughing and sneezing
- close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
“In the United States, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in the fall and winter. However, the infection can occur at any time of the year,” he said.
“Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime,” he added.
Sud also points out both SARS and MERS outbreaks were from animal-to-human contact, with SARS most likely from contact with bats and MERS from contact with camels.
“Since the organism causing infection is a virus, to date, we don’t have any specific antiviral medications,” Sud said.
Chinese authorities have identified an outbreak of respiratory illness. The CDC has issued a level 3 warning due to the outbreak, notifying travelers should avoid nonessential travel to the area.
Two people in the U.S. have been confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus after traveling to China, with likely the third case to be confirmed shortly.
Research has revealed a coronavirus caused the infection, a common type of virus that can also cause the common cold.
Experts emphasize that since a virus causes the illness, there aren’t any treatments available, and the infection can only be allowed to run its course.