Coronavirus: What is it and How do I Keep My Family Safe?
If you’ve been following the news lately, chances are you’ve heard about an outbreak of an illness being called the coronavirus. The virus originated in Wuhan, China and most of the people infected with the illness are located in this region of the world. However, people visiting and traveling from Wuhan have transmitted the virus back to their home countries, some of which live in the United States.
With so much news pouring in daily, it can be hard to process all the information from so many different sources. Furthermore, there can be a ton of disinformation spread on the Internet from unreliable and non-credible sources that some people may believe is real. This not only causes confusion but may also cause people to panic.
But do we have much of a reason to be worried about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus? What are the chances of a much more widespread outbreak in the United States? What kinds of things can the average person do to keep themselves from being infected if you live in an area where a person has been confirmed to be infected? Most importantly, what can you do to keep yourself and your family safe?
What is a coronavirus?
While many news outlets are calling it “the coronavirus,” the official name for the illness is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. But according to the CDC, coronaviruses “are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.” An example of a type of coronavirus is the SARS virus discovered in the beginning of 2003. A novel coronavirus is a new type of strain that hasn’t been identified in humans. So, when you hear “the coronavirus” on the news, remember that’s just the easiest way to describe it since it doesn’t have an official name yet.
Chances are, you’ve been infected with a coronavirus a few times in your life if you’ve ever gotten the common cold. Most cases where a coronavirus is suspected, symptoms are generally mild and people recover with the help of basic medicines. The common symptoms of coronaviruses include:
- Respiratory problems
- Shortness of Breath
- Breathing Difficulties
For more severe cases of coronaviruses, symptoms can include:
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (or SARS)
- Kidney Failure
It’s important to note that the more severe cases of illnesses caused by coronaviruses, like SARS, are incredibly rare, which is why 2019 Nova Coronavirus is such a big deal. It’s brand new and no one exactly knows how to treat it effectively. However, that doesn’t mean just because it’s out there that you or your family will get sick from it.
What Do We Know about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?
Information about the true origin of the virus is still sketchy as of mid-February 2020, however there are a few solid facts that are known.
The virus originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. It was originally believed that the illness was transmitted from seafood to humans. However, when the outbreak progressed, it was discovered that many of the infected people hadn’t come in contact with seafood or been in the area where the virus was thought to have originated.
The virus is transmitted via human to human in the same way many other viruses are spread, either by sneezing or coughing in the vicinity of other people. Because of China’s highly populated urban areas, it was quite easy for the virus to spread to so many people so quickly.
As of February 2020, an estimated 24,000 people have been infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and 492 people worldwide have died. In the United States, 11 people have tested positive for the virus in several states including California, Arizona, Washington, Illinois, and Massachusetts.
Symptoms of a coronavirus often appear just like the symptoms of many other types of illnesses you may not think twice about, and can happen in about two weeks after being exposed to the virus. In order for you to be infected with the strain of coronavirus you’re hearing about on the news, you would need to be standing within at least six feet of an infected person when he or she coughed or sneezed, so the virus could land on you. That means the chances of anyone in the United States becoming infected by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus who hasn’t been to Wuhan, China recently, or hasn’t been in close contact with someone who has traveled there, is slim to none.
While that’s fine for most people, what if you live in a state where there are thousands of travelers a day who come through the airport, some of whom came from that region?
The CDC, or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has begun screening airline passengers at over 20 airports in the United States where international travelers frequent, many of which are on the west and east coasts where international travel is more common. Additionally, there are no flights allowed to or from the Wuhan area of China until further notice.
Unfortunately, Americans were trapped in Wuhan when the travel ban was set in place and the U.S. government-chartered planes to remove as many Americans from the highly infectious area as possible. However, few flights were scheduled and anyone who couldn’t get a seat on a plane, will likely be staying overseas for the foreseeable future. Those planes coming from Wuhan, China are being diverted to air force bases, like Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. The bases will house government contractors, travelers, and other personnel returning from the region and quarantine them for a period of time to see if anyone develops symptoms.
Will I Get “The Coronavirus” and How Can I Protect My Family?
The simple answer is: NO. If you live in the United States, it is highly unlikely you will be infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The reason there are so many people infected in China is because of the dense population and their proximity to the virus. Unless you live there, travel there, or met an infected person who has traveled there, there is little chance you will be infected. Many measures are currently in place to prevent the possibility of an outbreak in the U.S. such as screening travelers in many locations across the country and quarantining anyone returning from the region.
But if you have traveled to this area of China, or have come in contact with someone who has, or are treating someone who is sick with 2019 Novel Coronavirus, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to be tested for possible infection. Avoid any kind of contact with people and cover your mouth to prevent spreading the virus in the air.
Remember: It’s flu season and everyone is getting sick in general. Just because you or someone in your family is running a fever, has a cough, or has common symptoms presented in a coronavirus, DOES NOT mean you have the Wuhan coronavirus being mentioned in the news. It’s far more likely you’re sick from the common cold or the flu, which are easily treated at home or with over the counter medicines.
Though you probably won’t be getting the Wuhan coronavirus, it’s still very easy to transmit other illnesses when you’re sick that can be just as deadly, especially to those with weak immune systems.
It’s easy to protect your family and others from wintertime illnesses by remembering to follow basic rules when you’re out in public or you’re sick.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom or bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. However, it’s preferable to use soap and water if it’s available.
- If you can’t wash or sanitize your hands, avoid touching your mouth, eyes, or nose until you can. These are the main points where germs can enter your body.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- If you’re sick, stay home. Going to work while you’re ill puts your co-workers at risk for getting sick.
- Make sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue away. Remember to wash your hands afterwards.
- If possible, use disinfecting wipes or sprays to clean countertops or areas where children or people frequent. This is especially important if someone at home is sick, even if they’re starting to feel better.
You may have seen many people wearing masks in order to prevent themselves from getting sick. The truth of the matter is that only sick people should wear a mask. This will prevent them from sneezing or coughing into the open around people. A healthy person wearing a mask can still get sick through their eyes or forgetting to wash their hands before eating.
Make sure you’re getting your information only from credible sources such as your local news station or from government agencies. The best way to know if you’re looking at a credible source of information online is to look for .gov or .org at the end of a web address. These are addresses that can only be assigned to government agencies or official organizations.
Much more information about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus will likely be released in the future. To stay up to date on the latest information, here are a few sources you can check if you ever want to know more about the outbreak.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- US Department of Labor
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration