The news for the last few weeks has been dominated by talk of a new virus not seen before in humans—coronavirus disease 2019 (SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV), commonly called COVID-19.
What is a coronavirus?
According to WebMD, “A coronavirus is a type of common virus that can infect your nose, sinuses, or upper throat.” Think, the common cold. Now, most coronaviruses aren’t dangerous. But, some, such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), have proven deadly.
Why is it called a coronavirus?
The name coronavirus comes from its crown-like shape. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they’re transmitted between animals and people. Not all countries have stringent food safety requirements, which can lead to disease transmission between animals and humans at all stages of production. In fact, you can catch a coronavirus from the family pet.
How does a coronavirus spread?
A coronavirus spreads much the same way as any other virus. In essence, sneezing, coughing, and touching contaminated surfaces (then your face) are the most common ways to spread illness. The respiratory droplets from an uncovered sneeze can travel up to 26 feet (7.9 m). Along with those droplets are whatever germs happen to be hitchhiking with you. The germs from a cough can travel more than 6 feet (1.9 m).
When they land, they can live on a surface for hours or days, depending on the surface and the virus. If SARS-CoV-2 behaves like other deadly coronaviruses, COVID-19 could live on a hard surface for up to 9 days. That means you can pick up a contagious illness even when the person who left it is long gone.
How much should you worry?
That’s up to you, but stay informed.
COVID-19 has a unique molecular structure that makes it very contagious. I’m not a microbiologist or epidemiologist, so some of the language confusing. Still, I get the gist of why it’s spreading so quickly.
Should you panic? No. But take sensible precautions. Now is probably not the time to plan that cruise (even though the price is right) or attend that concert. Wash your hands often. Cough into your elbow and sneeze into your shirt. Keep a 6-foot distance between you and others. Eat a healthy diet, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest. And for goodness sake, wash your hands.