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What to Know About Coronavirus, the Deadly Virus That Just Entered the U.S. from China

Prevention logo Prevention 1/24/2020 Korin Miller
a group of different colors: A coronavirus outbreak has caused hundreds of illnesses and 25 deaths in China, and two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. Doctors explain what you should know. © DR GOPAL MURTI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images A coronavirus outbreak has caused hundreds of illnesses and 25 deaths in China, and two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. Doctors explain what you should know.
  • A coronavirus outbreak has caused hundreds of illnesses and 25 deaths in China.
  • The CDC has confirmed two official cases of coronavirus in people returning to the United States from Wuhan, China.
  • Doctors explain what you need to know about the infection, its symptoms, and how worried you should be.

A coronavirus outbreak has caused hundreds of illnesses and 25 deaths in China. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed two official cases of the infection within the United States.

A person returning to Washington state from Wuhan, China,—where an outbreak of coronavirus is taking place—was diagnosed with coronavirus earlier this week. Today, the CDC said a second infection has been diagnosed in a Chicago woman who returned after traveling to the area. Texas A&M University has also confirmed that “a student may have a possible case of novel coronavirus.”

U.S. health officials are currently monitoring 63 other potential cases across 22 states. Despite a growing number of cases in Asia, the World Health Organization says “it is still too early to declare a public health emergency of international concern.”

This type of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, was originally thought to spread from animals to people, “but person-to-person spread of 2019-nCoV is occurring,” the CDC says. So, how worried should you be? Here, everything you need to know about coronavirus, its symptoms, and what experts think about its potential impact within the U.S.

What is coronavirus, exactly?

Human coronavirus is pretty common throughout the world, according to the CDC. There are seven different types, and many of them cause colds, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. However, two newer types—MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV—can cause severe illness.

The form of coronavirus that’s making headlines was only recently found to infect people, Dr. Adalja explains. “There is a race to determine what this coronavirus is, and whether it behaves more like a SARS, MERS, or a common cold virus. A lot of efforts are being made to answer this,” Dr. Adalja says. Scientists believe this particular type of coronavirus may have stemmed from snakes, but the origin of the virus has yet to be confirmed.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

They’re actually really similar to symptoms of the flu. People with coronavirus may have a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and generally feel sick, the CDC says. Coronavirus can also cause lower-respiratory tract infections like pneumonia or bronchitis.

The overlap with flu symptoms “makes coronavirus difficult to diagnose,” Dr. Adalja says, adding that the average person can’t tell the difference between the two. And, it’s possible for some people to have no symptoms at all.

People can die from coronavirus when they develop complications like respiratory failure or hypoxia (a condition where your body doesn’t get enough oxygen) secondary to pneumonia, Dr. Adalja says. Some people have had myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart, he adds. People who are immunocompromised, the very young, and the elderly are the most at risk of serious complications of coronavirus, the CDC says.

How is coronavirus treated?

As of now, there’s no specific treatment for coronavirus, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Instead, doctors are treating the symptoms and offering supportive care.

How worried should you be about coronavirus?

Hundreds of people in China have been infected with coronavirus and hospitalized, and it’s a little scary that it’s now in the U.S. But infectious disease experts say you shouldn’t panic. “The CDC is really on top of this,” Dr. Schaffner says.

Infectious disease doctors and public health officials are also “very aware” of coronavirus around the country, he adds, and many have implemented steps where patients with respiratory symptoms are now asked whether they’ve recently been to China or have had contact with someone recently who has been to the country. If the answer is “yes,” they’ll be quarantined.

People coming through five different airports in the U.S. are also now being screened for coronavirus, which can help detect cases early. “We have two cases right now and they’re pretty well contained, but we can expect more,” Dr. Adalja says. Despite the headlines, he also stresses that “contacts of the two case patients are being monitored and would only be contagious when symptomatic.”

To steer clear of any possible infection (especially during flu season), he says to practice good hand hygiene and try to steer clear of people who appear to be sick. The CDC also recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Wuhan, China.

This story is ongoing and will be updated as new information is confirmed.

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Related video: US airports displaying CDC warning posters amid coronavirus outbreak (Fox News)

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