Amid an outbreak of a deadly pneumonia-like illness that’s claimed at least 17 lives and sickened hundreds of others, how can you protect yourself?
The novel coronavirus that’s to blame for the illnesses began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has since spread to at least five countries — including the United States. Federal health officials this week announced that a man who lives in Seattle but recently traveled to Wuhan was diagnosed with the illness, ultimately sparking fears there could be more cases in this country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the risk to the public is currently low. But since scientists have confirmed the disease is indeed transmissible between humans, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
First, what is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — the latter of which also began in China and infected some 8,000 people during a 2002-2003 outbreak. At least 770 died after it spread to other cities and countries across the world.
Coronaviruses can spread between animals and people — meaning they are zoonotic. Officials have said the current outbreak likely began at an animal and seafood market in Wuhan.
Know the signs
Symptoms of 2019-nCoV, the novel coronavirus, have been reported to include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, noted that the symptoms are similar to other respiratory infections. Most U.S. residents experiencing symptoms are likely infected with the flu or “some other virus,” he told Scientific American.
“But if they came from Wuhan,” he noted, “it’s likely to be the new coronavirus.”
“The symptoms are very common to a number of viruses, though, so [the association] is based on epidemiology [and is confirmed by the rRT-PCR test],” he added.
Keep your hands washed
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from coronaviruses aside from following basic wellness practices.
- Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands
- Avoid close contact with sick people
If you are sick, you can protect others by:
- Staying home until you are well
- Avoiding close contact with others
- Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
- Keep objects and surfaces in your home or workspace clean and disinfected
At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against coronavirus infections. That said, officials with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed to Fox News this week that they are working on a vaccine to combat the China-linked coronavirus.
Officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have obtained the genetic sequence of the virus from the Chinese to begin developing a vaccine, Fauci told Scientific American.
However, “That doesn’t mean we will have a vaccine ready for use in three months; even in an emergency, that would take a year or more,” he said.