As reports of the coronavirus being transmitted in Japan start to trickle in, questions are growing about the disease — including how it is passed on and how its spread can be prevented. Below is some basic information about the new strain of coronavirus:
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of zoonotic viruses, which means they can be transferred from animals to people. They can cause symptoms ranging from a common cold to more severe and sometimes fatal diseases such as pneumonia.
Early cases of the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, were linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. Following reports of an infected patient with pneumonia in December, the virus was identified as being a new strain never before seen in humans.
“Much remains to be understood about 2019-nCoV,” the World Health Organization said Tuesday in a news release. “While the current understanding of the disease remains limited, most cases reported to date have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.”
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and respiratory issues. In severe cases an infection can lead to kidney failure, pneumonia and even death.
Symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure, according to health authorities.
How does it spread?
As seen in the case involving a tour bus driver in Nara who had transported visitors from Wuhan, the new strain of coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person, especially as a result of close contact with an infected patient in a household, office or hospital.
Coughing and sneezing are thought to contribute to the spread of the virus. Time and distance also matter. Viruses can typically be spread through the surfaces upon which droplets of saliva, mucus or other bodily fluids land. Many dry out and cease to be infectious if left for too long. But the properties of 2019-nCoV itself remains unclear.
How can it be prevented?
To reduce the likeliness of infection, people are being advised to wash their hands regularly, cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, make sure they fully cook meat and eggs and avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms.
The Foreign Ministry is asking people not to travel to Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan. Travelers are also being asked to exercise caution when traveling to China.
Is there a vaccine or treatment?
No. Researchers are only beginning to understand the nature of this new strain of the virus. There is no treatment for a disease caused by a novel coronavirus, but symptoms can be treated and supportive care for infected people has been shown to be highly effective, according to the World Health Organization.
Still, while it can usually take months or even years to develop a vaccine, the U.S. is aiming to test the first of a number of experimental vaccines within three months. It took scientists 20 months to begin human trials following the 2003 outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
In China, HIV drugs are being employed in the interim to treat pneumonia caused by the coronavirus as the country’s National Health Commission works on developing a vaccine.