If you’ve turned on any of your devices, logged into your social media accounts, caught snippets of a news report, or possibly just overheard a random conversation waiting in line at the grocery store, you know that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is the biggest global news story right now.

And it is giving a deeper meaning to the term “going viral”. 

This Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is not considering IF there could be an outbreak in the United States, but WHEN they expect the disease to spread and to what degree, reach, or magnitude. 

So, with this in mind, we compiled a list of frequently asked questions and helpful resources to (hopefully) set your mind at ease as much as possible and to navigate the onslaught of information out there about this virus.  

What is a “coronavirus”? And what distinguishes it from other types of viruses? 

There are seven known human coronaviruses (HCoV). And the current one is just the newest mutation of the virus, hence the initial name of 2019-NCoV (and now commonly known as COVID-19). 

Coronaviruses were given their name based on the crown-like projections on their surfaces (“corona” in Latin means “halo” or “crown”). The different types of human coronaviruses vary in the severity of the illness they cause and how far they can spread.

Rarer and more dangerous types include MERS-CoV, which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), the coronavirus responsible for SARS.

How does a coronavirus, particularly COVID-19, spread? 

It is suspected that COVID-19 started in animals (although the exact animal(s) have yet to be identified) and then the virus emerged in humans. Now, the virus is spreading through person-to-person contact. 

Most often, spread from person-to-person happens among close contact (about 6 feet). Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. 

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 

It’s currently unclear if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

It’s important to note that how easily a virus spreads person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious and other viruses are less so. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing. With most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic or ill.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The CDC believes that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure and typically include fever coughing and shortness of breath.

Also, it’s important to eliminate any type of stigma there may be surrounding this virus–people of Asian descent or Asian-Americans who have NOT visited regions near the original outbreak center in Wuhan China are not more likely to spread COVID-19. 

How do you test for COVID-19?

The CDC has developed a real-time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RRT-PCR) test that can diagnose COVID-19 in respiratory samples from clinical specimens. 

On January 24, 2020, the CDC publicly posted the assay protocol for this test and has begun distributing these tests to states.

The CDC has also been uploading the entire genome of the viruses from reported cases in the United States to GenBank as sequencing is completed. Within 72 hours, a pharmaceutical company in San Diego, CA had developed an experimental vaccination.

And locally (well, for most of us here at Salus), scientists at Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff have jumped into the ring of detection and prevention to try to speed up the testing process. 

(You can read more about that research or give the news clip a listen here). 

If statistics are your thing here are some important numbers: 

The population of China as of 2019 was 1.436 billion people with 1368 deaths of COVID-19.

The population of the United States as of 2019 was 329.45 million people with flu deaths currently over 13,000 people. 

Per capita, 1 out of 1,049,707 people in China has died from COVID-19 where 1 out of every 25,342 people in the US have died from the flu this past year.

MERS is fatal in 30 to 40 percent of people who contract it, but less than 3% that have contracted COVID-19 so far have died from it.

For Healthcare Providers: 

If you are a healthcare provider, be on the look-out for people who recently traveled from China and have a fever and respiratory symptoms.

Often those most at risk during a pandemic are health care workers, because of there increased likelihood of exposure.

So, healthcare providers caring for a COVID-19 patient or public health responders, please take care of yourself and follow recommended infection control procedures.