Originally Published on The Alternative Daily. (This article has been edited and updated to reflect the current situation with the Coronavirus. This article was last updated 3/29/2020.)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard about and been sufficiently terrorized by reports of the deadly coronavirus that is sweeping the globe. What exactly is a coronavirus, and how can you protect your family from this invisible threat? Read on as we unmask the truth behind the outbreak.
First detected in late December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, this coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, has now infected an estimated 720,000 people and caused at least 33,900 deaths (1). The disease has spread to other countries, including the United States, Germany, Australia, Japan, Thailand, France, South Korea, Vietnam, and Canada. The United States have now become the epicenter of the virus, with over 134,000 active cases and 2,471 deaths.
What Exactly Is The Coronavirus?
Though this is a “novel” or unstudied illness that has never been seen before, it very clearly affects the respiratory system and can lead to pneumonia in certain cases. Coronaviruses are not new; however, this particular strain acts differently than many other upper respiratory tract illnesses since it is accompanied by a fever, cough, and shortness of breath but not other hallmarks of respiratory illness such as sneezing or runny nose.
Coronaviruses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (2). In 2002-2003 there was a massive outbreak of the coronavirus SARS which originated in China and spread to other countries, leading to at least 770 deaths around the world.
Why Is It Such A Problem?
Unlike other viruses that have been studied for years, this particular coronavirus has taken scientists by surprise. They know very little about how it works and have not yet been able to develop a vaccine or specific medication to target this virus. Plus, each coronavirus is different, which means that even if you were exposed to another one, you would not have immunity against this strain (5). That leaves the entire population vulnerable to infection. However, like most viruses, the elderly or others with a compromised immune system are more likely to contract the virus.
How To Protect You And Your Family
- Practice proper handwashing technique
The single best way to protect you and your family from a variety of illnesses is to wash your hands properly and frequently. Wash hands with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before and after caring for a sick friend or a family member (8). Scrub for at least 20 seconds and dry with a clean towel.
- Avoid close contact with sick people
Naturally, the closer in proximity you are to an infected person, the more likely you are to catch the same illness. Avoid spending time around anyone with flu or cold-like symptoms.
- Avoid eating undercooked
Along with staying away from any animal market and avoiding contact with live animals, (especially if you are in the affected area of China), be sure to practice proper food safety guidelines at home.
- Don’t touch your
Avoid touching anywhere on your face, including your nose, eyes, and mouth, as any bacteria or virus can survive on your hands and enter your body through these vulnerable locations.
- Sneeze into your
- Though this is more about kindness and protection for other people than yourself, if you are sick with the flu, sneeze, and cough into your elbow to help avoid spraying bacteria all over nearby surfaces.