As hundreds of cases of the human coronavirus emerge in China, with more than 100 deaths, U.S. airports have implemented health screenings to prevent the spread, which stands at five cases in the states.
The outbreak was first reported in December in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China. As recently as Wednesday, more than 200 U.S. citizens were flown in a U.S. State Department-chartered aircraft from Wuhan to Riverside, California, monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC continued to monitor the outbreak, but asked that citizens of the U.S. not panic.
For the first time Thursday, the virus spread from person-to-person in the U.S.
The World Health Organization declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” not because of what was happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Here’s what to know.
What is the coronavirus?
The coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, is a new type virus first discovered in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It’s a respiratory virus. While human coronaviruses were first discovered in the mid-1960s, the virus making people sick in China is a new type. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with illness ranging from the common cold to something more severe, like SARS.
Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
Rarely, fecal contamination
How can you prevent getting the coronavirus?
The CDC recommends:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
What it’s not
It is not Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS and MERS tend to come with more severe symptoms. SARS starts with a high fever, then headache, discomfort, body aches, mild respiratory symptoms and diarrhea. “After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.”
How did it start and what’s the source?
Public health officials are working to identify the cause. When new human coronaviruses emerge, it’s because it started with animals and mutated to infect humans. Coronaviruses have been known to transfer among animals likes camels, cats and bats. For example, MERS and SARS are human coronaviruses that evolved to infect people. SARS started with civet cats, while MERS, another coronavirus that emerged to infect people, came from camels.