As the Wuhan coronavirus spreads around the world, health officials have taken up screening efforts and monitoring to prevent the spread of the disease.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified seven different coronaviruses that are capable of spreading to humans. The CDC says that various forms of coronavirus typically manifest as mild or moderate illnesses, however, some forms of the coronavirus have manifested with severe symptoms, such as respiratory illnesses.
A CDC readout of symptoms for coronavirus indicate many similarities to colds. Those with coronavirus could have runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell. The mild forms of symptoms typically only last a short period of time.
More serious forms of coronavirus can result in lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. These illnesses are typically more common in people with existing comorbidity conditions such as cardiopulmonary disease or weakened immune systems, or infants and elderly adults.
The recent outbreak in Wuhan, China has already seen 26 fatal cases. More than 900 cases have appeared worldwide, and on Friday, the CDC confirmed the second U.S. case.
The particular type of coronavirus at the epicenter of the latest outbreak is known as the Wuhan coronavirus and more scientifically as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Novel, in this instance, means new as this recent outbreak has not been seen before.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) for the CDC, said in a briefing last week, that the deadly new coronavirus has an incubation period of between two and 14 days, though the CDC is still uncertain about the new virus.
“We generally know that the incubation period is around two to 14 days, and there’s nothing that we’ve seen with this outbreak that is not consistent with that,” Messonnier said, “but we really don’t have the level of detail that would allow us to be really completely confident that this virus is behaving the way that we expect.”
The CDC guidelines for prevention and treatment note that the new coronavirus has no preventative vaccination.
“The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” the CDC advises. The CDC further advises thorough handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or the use of an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Other prevention advice includes avoiding touching one’s eyes nose and mouth, or those believed infected and frequently disinfecting touched objects and surfaces. People are also advised to cover their coughs and sneezes and stay home when sick.
There is also no antiviral treatment for the new coronavirus, though victims can receive treatment for their symptoms, including care to support vital organ functions in severe cases.
Health officials have been on the lookout for possible carriers of the disease and several airports in the U.S. have taken up screening efforts to identify travellers coming from China who may have contracted the virus.
According to the CDC, most forms of coronavirus are common in animal species like bats and camels and only rarely do they spread to humans. In some instances, forms of the coronavirus can evolve and spread to humans and CDC is not why only some forms of the virus are able to infect humans but not others.
The CDC’s initial assessment of how the new coronavirus outbreak has spread noted that many of the patients in Wuhan, China have had some connection to a seafood or live animal market, indicating the virus initially began through animal-to-person transmission. Later cases have indicated person-to-person transmission is occurring.
Previous deadly forms of coronavirus, including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus were believed to have spread through droplets of infected respiratory fluid spread through coughs and sneezes. The coronavirus can also be transmitted by close personal contact with an infected person or touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes. In rare cases, the virus can also be spread through fecal contamination.