How worried should you be about the coronavirus?  Coronavirus, also called the “novel coronavirus” or the “Wuhan coronavirus,” after the city in China where it seems to have originated, can have symptoms similar to the common cold, or the flu. It can also be as severe as pneumonia. The disease has killed more than 100 people in China, where there have been 4,500 cases. Outside China there have been 60 cases, including five in the United States.  It’s not time to freak out in the United States, obviously. But the disease can seem scary because of the unknown, said Dr. Elie Saade at University Hospitals.  “All these pictures and videos of space suits coming from China and from other areas, it makes people scared,” Saade said. “There’s a psychological component to that.”


What is a coronavirus?

This virus is Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov). As of now, it’s labeled as novel coronavirus because it has never been seen before.  “There is still much more to learn about this virus including regarding the extent of human-to-human transmission,” said Dr. Steven Gordon of the Cleveland Clinic. “The common coronaviruses that cause up to 30% of upper respiratory tract infection each year spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.”


Where did the coronavirus come from?

The city of Wuhan, China, has been quarantined as officials believe it is the origin city for the coronavirus.


What are symptoms?

Fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms of the coronavirus may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure, according to the CDC.


Can I have the coronavirus without seeing symptoms? 

Though Chinese officials said that there is evidence of the virus being spread before symptoms show, nothing has been proven yet. If that is true, it would make the disease harder to contain.


How is it spread?

Early on, many of the patients in the outbreak of coronavirus had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, the CDC says. The virus can be spread person-to-person, according to the CDC. Officials believe the disease is spread through respiratory droplets produced through coughs and sneezes.


How can I stop the spread?

Wash your hands. Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds can help limit the spread of viruses. Make sure not to touch your nose and eyes, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and don’t go to work if you feel ill.  Says the CDC: “While the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, everyone can do their part to help us respond to this emerging public health threat… It’s currently flu and respiratory disease season and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed.”


If there’s an outbreak here, can I prevent contracting it by using a mask?

There’s no conclusive answer.  A mask can help, Saade said. Students at Miami University are already wearing them. Currently, doctors say there is no need to wear a mask in public. Surgical masks – the cheap, disposable masks sold at drug stores – won’t do a lot to protect you from coronavirus, according to news reports. The risk of catching coronavirus while outside, in the open air, is so low in the U.S. that the risk of catching it is low.

Even in enclosed spaces, disposable masks often don’t provide a tight fit, allowing small airborne particles to waft in through the openings. The masks themselves do block large droplets (from, say, a sneeze or a cough), meaning they can help you from spreading a disease, but they’re not nearly as effective at filtering out viruses in the air, according to NPR.


Will Purell help?

The CDC lists alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a precaution if soap and water is not available, but the FDA has demanded Purell-maker GOJO Industries stop claiming the hand sanitizer can combat the flu and other diseases.


Should I just stay home?

No. Unless you or someone around you has recently traveled to China, your risk of getting sick is low, according to local and state health officials.


Should I travel? Should I avoid getting on a bus or a plane? 

You shouldn’t worry about traveling unless it’s to or from China. The Centers for Disease Control has issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid any non-essential trips to China, especially to Wuhan in Hubei Province.  If you do travel to China, the CDC recommends talking to your health-care provider first, washing or sanitizing your hands often, and – especially if you have an underlying medical condition – avoiding sick people and animals (as well as animal markets and animal products).


Should I stock up on antiviral medicine? 

There are no vaccines nor drugs specifically designed to treat the new strain of coronavirus. Some U.S. drugmakers have sent antiviral drugs used to treat HIV to China to assess their effectiveness, and a Chinese government panel has recommended that doctors treat coronavirus patients with an anti-HIV drug called Kaletra, the Wall Street Journal reports.


Should I avoid meat?

U.S. health officials have found no signs to date of the coronavirus in meat or other food products. The CDC has only warned against eating meat and other animal products if you are in China.


Who is more at risk if it starts spreading?

Like the flu, children, the elderly, and those with heart disease or autoimmune problems are more at-risk of complications from coronavirus.


When should I go to the hospital?

If you have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or may have had contact with someone who did and are experiencing symptoms, call your local emergency room, Saade said. The CDC recommends telling a healthcare professional about your recent travel and your symptoms before going to the hospital. “Health professionals will advise you on the best course of action to get help and to limit any potential spread.”


How is the disease being diagnosed and treated?

Chinese health officials released the genetic sequencing for the coronavirus shortly after the first outbreak, which U.S. officials praised because it allowed them to develop a rapid diagnostic test.  A potential vaccine is also in the process of being developed, although it will take months for trials and for U.S. officials to approve it.


Will the government declare a public health emergency?

Not right now, since there are only 5 confirmed cases, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday in a press conference.


Will the outbreak continue to spread?

Most likely.  “The coming days and weeks are likely to bring more confirmed cases here and around the world, including the possibility of some person-to-person spread,” said Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield.


What if it becomes a pandemic?

While the CDC is not yet addressing this possibility, if the epidemic becomes a pandemic, the World Health Organization offers best practices: “During severe pandemics, more extreme measures can be implemented: using facemasks when sick, schools closures, decreasing the amount of contacts among people.” The U.S. government recommends that to prepare for a pandemic, people can:

  • – store a two week supply of water and food.
  • – check regular prescription drugs to ensure a supply
  • – have medical supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • – get copies of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference.
  • – get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.