What Is Coronavirus
January 30 2020
Coronaviruses, the variety of viruses that cause colds, have been around seemingly forever. But recently, a new type has appeared, and it causes issues more severe than just coughs and sneezes.
By late January, there were over 5000 cases registered, including several cases in the United States, Europe, and Australia. The vast majority of those infected are in the mainland of China, with some of the patients dead or being in critical condition.
Here’s a deeper look at what caused an outbreak of viral pneumonia in Wuhan, the most populous city in Central China. We’ll explore what coronaviruses are, how they differ from other viruses, and how to protect yourself.
Coronaviruses (COVID-19) belong to a large family of viruses responsible for respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. These viruses get the name from their electron microscopic images. Essentially, they look like a circle with spikes somewhat resembling a crown. The word “corona” is Latin for “crown”.
Coronaviruses are common throughout the world, but most strains affect only animals. It was first discovered in the 1960s in chickens. The ancestors of coronavirus have been placed at 8,000 BCE and could only be passed among warm-blooded flying vertebrates.
What is the coronavirus in humans? Since then, other members of this virus family have since been identified, and some of them were capable of affecting humans. Currently, there are seven coronaviruses that can infect people. Four of them are called common human coronaviruses, which are often considered inconsequential. Most people that have been affected by the common coronavirus simply experienced cold-like symptoms.
Particular virus types can diffuse broadly and cause a pandemic risk, but they also mostly affect animals. On rare occasions, they can evolve and get transmitted from animals to humans.
What is coronavirus in its new form? Viruses are known to adapt to changes and quickly produce many offspring with mutated genes. Sometimes, these mutations can lead to the emergence of dangerous, even life-threatening varieties.
This is what happened to the novel coronavirus, which is also referred to as Wuhan Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV. This virus developed atypical characteristics and jumped from animals to humans. There is not a lot of information about this particular strain, but scientists are working on it.
Recent studies determined that the 2019-nCoV is a result of rare genetic recombination. It changed the way the virus enters new cells, which might explain how it hopped species. The main distinction is in its viral proteins that recognize and bind to a host cell. It introduced its genetic material and completed viral particles exit the cell to infect other ones.
Such viruses have not affected humans before – they were mainly spread among different animal species. Therefore, humans have not developed a specific immunity to these viruses.
The Coronavirus outbreak is not a new occurrence. There have been two major coronavirus outbreaks in the past, which were SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
The SARS epidemic started in China in the fall of 2003. An epidemiological investigation showed that the virus crossed over to humans from Asian palm civets, small nocturnal mammals. There were over 8,000 confirmed cases in 30 countries, with more than 900 deaths. Most patients were in China (almost 350 cases) and in Hong Kong (about 300 cases). The end of the outbreak was officially announced in 2004.
The most recent outbreak of coronavirus infection began in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The MERS was transmitted to humans primarily from infected camels. However, later the virus became transmittable from person to person. By the end of 2014, the outbreak subsided.
The main difference between SARS, MERS, and the current coronavirus outbreak is that researchers are learning about the virus much earlier than before. Moreover, government officials are taking action much more promptly: they impose ravel vans, conduct screening, encourage research, and share warning and recommendations to the general public.
When the first novel coronavirus cases were reported, researchers were making assumptions about how the virus was originally transmitted to humans. Researchers analyzed genome sequences by computational means and came up with genetic sequences for the new virus. The results confirmed a hypothesis that the 2019-nCoV jumped from an animal at the market.
Scientists compared protein codes affected by the new coronavirus to those of various animal hosts, like birds, cattle, snakes, raccoons, quails, bats, and humans. The analysis showed that snakes – including the Chinese krait and the cobra – may be the source of the newly discovered virus.
But what is even more interesting is how the virus traveled to snakes. It is theorized that it may be the original host. Considering, snakes often hunt for bats in the wild, it is a plausible assumption. When it comes to zoonotic viruses, bats are in a league of their own. On average, each species of bat hosts 1.8 zoonotic viruses, which is even more than the same indicator but for rodents.
However, it is still unknown why the new coronavirus is capable of adapting from cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts.
Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan
The culprit of many viruses passing onto the human population is live-animal markets. If you also consider that these markets are poorly regulated and often facilitate illegal wildlife trade, it makes sense how these occurrences take place.
The Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan was one of these types of markets. It is also called a wet market because it sells live animals, which are slaughtered in front of the customer. Unfortunately, the process of skinning of dead animals in front of shoppers means that whatever the animal is infected with is aerosolized.
The first cases of novel coronavirus originated in the Huanan market. Snakes were among the animals sold at the market, which passed the virus to humans – it was either those people who visited it or worked there.
The exact origin is hard to determine at this point. Since the first case was discovered, the seafood market has been closed and undergone disinfection. So, researchers are unable to search for the source animal, which introduces more challenges for the development of effective treatment.
The human coronaviruses are known to present a wide range of symptoms, which mainly affect the upper respiratory tract. These symptoms are very similar to the regular flu and range from mild to moderate. The list includes:
- feeling tired
- a high temperature
- runny nose, difficulty breathing
- sire throat
- coughing, sneezing
In more severe (but rare) cases, these symptoms can progress to cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Some people have also experienced myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart. It does not happen to everybody and requires an already weakened system for more serious complications.
Two other human coronaviruses, MERS and SARS, which have been responsible for outbreaks in the past, were detectable by the same symptoms, and complications were similar as well. Both viruses were accompanied by fever, cough, chills, and body aches and often led to pneumonia. Fortunately, there have not been any human cases anywhere in the world for the last 15 years.
Even if a person does not show symptoms of the illness, international airports and other institutions are introducing special policies to eliminate all risks. If a person has recently been to China or has been in close contact with someone who has, they are put under quarantine. Additionally, they are implementing screenings that help detect potentially dangerous cases early.
Coronaviruses are mostly transmitted across different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. But the human-to-human transmission is also possible. When this kind of spread occurred in the past, it was thought to stem from droplets trapped in the upper respiratory tract. It happened when an infected person coughed or sneezed in close proximity to other people (about five feet).
According to the CDC, there are several common methods of how human coronaviruses were spread. It is not so different from how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. Here is how novel coronavirus can travel to an infected person to others:
- bacteria in aerosol droplets from coughs and sneezes
- close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands
- sharing cups, eating utensils, lip balm, vaping devices, and other objects
- fecal contamination (less frequent)
Recent observations show that the coronavirus can be transmitted even before an infected person shows any symptoms. It is one of the primary reasons the virus has been so prevalent and infectious. These hidden carriers have normal vitals and body temperatures.
There is evidence that the new type of coronavirus may spread in a different way than other types. Some data suggests that each infected person is estimated to transmit the virus further approximately to three-five other people. The Chinese University of Hong Kong is currently looking into the matter to gather more data.
Based on the information about previous viruses, there are certain groups of people who are more likely to be affected by the virus. Wuhan’s health commission reported that most cases range between 15 and 88 years old.
However, there are particularly sensitive risk groups that must be protected against the dangers of the virus, just as with most respiratory illnesses. People with an increased risk of becoming infected are:
- Those who are over age 65
- Children under the age of two
- People with weakened immune systems due to underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, liver, cardiopulmonary, or kidney disease.
These groups need to pay more attention to staying safe and prevent becoming infected with coronaviruses as they can become more serious and progress to pneumonia. As is known from the All American Home Care experience, older people are more likely to catch pneumonia and similar diseases. Since older adults are potentially more susceptible to coronavirus, we can help them take precautionary measures.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has put up a list of recommendations for the general public, which will limit their exposure to the virus. It includes hand and respiratory hygiene and safe food practices. Most recommendations are the same as the WHO published for MERS coronavirus several years ago.
Here is how to avoid coronavirus transmission as much as possible:
- Wash your hands with soap and running water if your hands are visibly dirty. If not, you can use an alcohol-based hand rub instead.
- Cover your mouth and nose during coughing/sneezing with a tissue, a sleeve, or a flexed elbow rather than your palms. If you use tissues, throw them into closed bins.
- Avoid unprotected contact with sick people (including touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth).
- Avoid contact with live farm or wild animals or surfaces that have been in direct contact with them.
- Avoid visiting live markets in affected areas.
- If you are working in markets in affected areas, disinfect equipment and the working area at least once a day. Wear protective gowns, gloves, and facial protection. Remove and wash them after work immediately.
Let’s focus more detail on hand hygiene because there are a few additional rules to follow. You are advised to wash your hands:
- after sneezing/coughing
- before/during/after preparing food
- before eating
- after toilet use
- after handling animals of animal waste
Lastly, there are a few additional recommendations on food safety. It will protect you from not only the coronavirus but also a range of other diseases:
- Never eat animals that have died of diseases.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products.
- Take measures to prevent cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
- Limit your meat intake in areas experiencing outbreaks.
Seemingly, there is always a surge in sales of face masks during any virus outbreak that is discussed on the news. But does it actually help? Just like experts were divided when they were figuring out how to prevent MERS coronavirus, there are opposing opinions.
There are reasons to believe that it actually contributes to preventing transmission and infection of the airborne disease. On average, people touch their faces 23 times an hour. Since the mask covers most of your face, you are not likely to touch your face as often. As a result, you limit hand-to-mouth transmissions, which, at the end of the day, have a good impact.
Also, masks minimize the number of droplets of fluid from your nose and mouth. So, when others sneeze and cough, there will not be as much of a “splash”, and it will limit your exposure if they are infected.
However, there are significant downsides to wearing face masks. Essentially, they are not effective protection against viruses or bacteria. First, they are too loose to eliminate exposure to others completely. Secondly, warmth and moisture that can collect under the mask create a perfect environment for bacterial growth.
The experts’ consensus appears to be that face masks help prevent virus transmission but not eliminate it. It is important to use them correctly; otherwise, you will achieve the opposite effect. When putting on the mask, secure it with a bendable metal strip to wrap it snuggly against your face. Also, replace them multiple times a day.
If you have cold-like symptoms, chances are it is not coronavirus. But just in case, you make some effort to prevent further spread of whatever illness you have:
- Stay home when you are unwell or recovering from a sickness.
- Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
- Cover your nose and mouth with tissues when you cough/sneeze and throw it away immediately.
- Wash your household objects with a regular cleaner and to be extra cautious, follow it with a disinfectant
- Don’t share towels with other family members.
Once again, if you have any reason to suspect that you are infected with a novel coronavirus, contact your doctor or a hospital.
Unfortunately, precautionary measures do not work 100% of the time. As a new strain of coronavirus is infecting more people, it’s important to know, “How do you treat the coronavirus?” This question was a highly discussed topic during previous outbreaks as well.
So far, there is no specific treatment for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses. There is no vaccine, but scientists and researchers are actively working on developing one. Available treatment options are mostly supportive care. Patients feel poorly for some time, but after a while, the virus goes away by itself. The common human coronavirus does not require intervention, but you can ease your symptoms by:
- taking pain and fever medications (tylenol, aspirin or decongestant)
- taking hot showers
- using a room humidifier
- drinking plenty of liquids
If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, contact a healthcare professional. Don’t go to the doctor’s office or hospital; it will put others at risk. Severe symptoms don’t necessarily mean you are infected with a novel coronavirus. Viruses sometimes cause a secondary bacterial infection, so you will simply need to take a prescribed course of antibiotics.
Scientists are exploring all possibilities that will generate effective treatment of the new virus. The possible avenues include antiviral medications (a class of medication used specifically for treating viral infections) and convalescent whole blood or plasma (passive immunization).
Before we can talk about how long the virus affects the body, we should highlight the difference between the different types once again. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous. Interestingly, there is a very high chance that you have been infected with a coronavirus at some point in your life.
For most types of coronaviruses, the symptoms are mild to moderate and last from a few days to two weeks. Treatment for these types of infections involves simply managing symptoms until the infection runs its course. You can treat them with rest and over-the-counter medication. It is similar to any other upper respiratory infection, so you should treat it just like you would treat any other cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.
However, there are other cases that occur very rarely but have significantly more severe consequences. It can lead to a serious infection of the respiratory tract and require treatment in a hospital or other care facility. In such cases, it is very hard to say how long it will last. Periods of being infected vary from person to person, since the virus affects them to different degrees.
Infections are most common in the fall and winter, particularly in October to December, which has been proven several times over the course of the decade. It will take some time for symptoms to appear after catching the infection. The average incubation period ranges from one to 14 days, depending on the type of virus.
Every day we are learning new information. Recently, the estimates of the coronavirus incubation period were set at 2-10 days. It is crucial to determine infected patients may transmit the virus to others since it will help stop its further spread.
There is good news for those worrying about virus transmission through imported goods. The survivability rate of the coronavirus on surfaces is very low. According to the Center for Disease Control’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, it is unlikely to become infected with coronavirus by being exposed to a package shipped from China.
Let’s imagine the following situation, which is unlikely but very indicative. A person could directly sneeze on a package before shipping it to your house. In general, the time to deliver an international package from China takes from several days to weeks, which is more than enough time for a virus to die down.
The full truth is that there is limited research on the resiliency of this specific type of virus. But based on existing research on similar viruses, there is enough information to make a conclusion on the shipment regulations.
The novel coronavirus is one of the few new disease outbreaks in the social media era, and the panic around it generates lots of misconceptions. It is crucial to distinguish between accurate information from trusted outlets, from those who spread false information for their own gain.
This map keeps track of and visualizes novel coronavirus cases across the world. It is referred to as “Wuhan coronavirus map: tracking the spread of the outbreak.” The information is gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, China’s CDC, and other credible sources. The map updates data daily so that the general public is well-informed on the current reports.
Here is what we know so far about the timeline of the outbreak, starting from Wuhan city in China. Let’s trace its movements, for the first month, since it emerged:
- 31 December 2019: The first case was detected in Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province. The World Health Organization was notified about a flu-like virus.
- 1 January 2020: The outbreak was linked to Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market. The market was closed and has not been in operation since.
- 3-5 January 2020: Passengers flying out of Wuhan Airport are subject to screenings to detect symptoms, such as fever. The WHO is not in favor of applying a travel ban and limiting trade with China.
- 6 January 2020: There are no confirmed cases of the virus being transmitted human-to-human. Scientists are trying to figure out the nature of the illness and rule out SARS, MERS, and bird flu.
- 7 January 2020: Chinese authorities announce the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) as the cause of the illnesses. The virus is linked to the common cold, SARS, and MERS.
- 9 January 2020: Scientists in China sequenced the virus’s genome and have made it available through the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
- 11-17 January 2020: The first and second coronavirus deaths are reported. Both were men in their 60s admitted to the hospital with a fever. The US starts conducting airport screenings.
- 20 January 2020: More than 200 cases are reported in China. There are also recorded cases in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. It is affirmed that there is a phenomenon of human-to-human transmission, and more international airports are screening for the virus.
- 21 January 2020: The first coronavirus reports in the USA and Australia are confirmed. Both of those infected have recently been in China. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US are working on a vaccine.
- 22 January 2020: The death toll rose to 17 people, and the WHO officials held a meeting in Geneva. Airport screening techniques are improved. The sale of live poultry is banned in the outbreak hub.
- 23 January 2020: The government cancels Chinese New Year celebrations. Some Chinese cities are subject to travel bans.
- 24 January 2020: More cities restrict traveling. Wuhan is building a new temporary 1000-bed hospital, which is expected to be finished in six days.
- 26-27 January 2020: There are nearly 3,000 confirmed cases in China, most of them located in the Hubei province. USA, France, Spain, and Portugal are planning to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan city. Mexico and Colombia have their first coronavirus cases.
- 28 January 2020: First domestic transmissions are reported in Japan and Germany. China is looking into different avenues of treatment.
Obviously, new information is coming out every single day. Hopefully, there will be developments not only containing the virus within the affected area but also to help those already infected. At this point, an international emergency has not been declared. That said, no cases are carelessly discarded, and the research is ongoing.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) shared that they are investing over $10 million to treat those affected by the novel coronavirus. And perhaps, most importantly, it will help contain the virus from spreading around the world. So far, most cases have concentrated in mainland China.
Despite engaging the most powerful technologies and the best laboratories, there will not be an immediate success. Realistically speaking, a vaccine licensed for use in humans is not likely to be developed within a year. There are limitations to properly diagnose patients because of the large-scale reach of the virus.
The genome comparison, available data, and further investigation lead to the conclusion that the virus may have originated in November 2019, contrary to what was reported before. The more information emerges, the quicker the scientists will be able to produce commercial kits for 2019-nCoV for international use.
Researchers are looking into an ELISA-based method, an analytical biochemistry assay, for detecting the virus in potential patients as early as possible. It will eliminate the possibility of future outbreaks and detect viruses earlier than it was for SARS, MERS, and the new 2019-nCoV.
With all this media craze about the novel coronavirus, it’s important to act rationally during an outbreak. Many experts agree that common sense is the best defense against viral illness. Now that you know signs, symptoms, and prevention of disease, you are better equipped to avoid it. Basic rules of hygiene and food safety remain the biggest contributing factors to disease prevention.
Overall, most people have had a coronavirus infection at some point but thought of it as a cold. Most coronavirus infections are associated with mild to moderate symptoms, and at All American Home Care, we have extensive experience in dealing with these common health issues. As for the new strain of coronavirus, you should be cautious but not give in to the panic around it. Express your concerns to your doctor, and they will be able to rule out unlikely scenarios.