A new coronavirus discovered in China’s central city of Wuhan has caught the world’s attention and begun circulating through other countries.
Coronaviruses are not new, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The name refers to a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. In the past, only two variants of the virus have caused severe illness in people — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The new strain, named 2019-nCoV, has been linked to more than 7,700 cases as of January 29, according to WHO. A vast majority of these cases are in Wuhan and nearby cities in Hubei province.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement saying that the complete clinical picture of 2019-nCoV is still not entirely clear. Human-to-human transmission has been confirmed. There is no vaccine for the virus.
Although the strain of this disease may be new, the method of avoiding it is the same as with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza or the common cold.
Adrian Cotton, chief of medical operations at Loma Linda University Health, said it’s critical for people — especially those who are more vulnerable to sickness — to take preventative measures to keep themselves healthy and reduce the risk of infection.
Cotton first stresses the importance of washing hands. “This is the single most important thing you and your family can do to prevent the spread of a virus,” he said.
Viruses, such as the flu or coronavirus, are spread from person to person in droplets through coughs and sneezes from an infected person, Cotton said. They can also spread when a person touches fluid droplets on a surface or person and then touches their own mouth or nose.
In addition to washing hands frequently, Cotton recommends avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth after touching another person or object. If someone is sick, he said, avoid close contact altogether.
“If you’re not feeling well, stay home,” he said. “If your coughing becomes severe and is present with a fever, call your doctor.”
Although coronavirus can become severe, Cotton said, a more considerable current concern is the flu, which has killed more than 150 people in California, United States, so far this season.
“You should always practice responsible hygiene and prevention methods to best prevent the contracting and spread of any virus,” he said. “Handwashing and vaccines have been shown to help protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our society.”