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Recently, an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus (now named COVID-19) in China has caused global concern. It came from a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, in December. It has since spread to other countries, including the United States. The market sold live and recently killed animals, which is where the virus originated.
Six cities in China have been quarantined because of the coronavirus. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk to the American public is low at this time.
What is a coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a virus that is found in animals. Sometimes these viruses can be transmitted from animals to humans, although it is rare. Officials do not know what animal caused the Wuhan coronavirus, although the market it is linked to also sold wild animals, like snakes and crocodiles.
In addition to the Wuhan coronavirus, other human coronaviruses have included:
- The MERS virus, or Middle East respiratory syndrome.
- The SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which first occurred in the Guangdong province in southern China.
It is believed that both MERS and SARS are more serious than the Wuhan coronavirus.
What are the symptoms of a coronavirus?
Unlike MERS and SARS, the Wuhan coronavirus is usually fairly mild. It can take longer for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may include:
- A mild cough.
- Shortness of breath.
- A runny nose.
- A sore throat.
- A headache.
- A fever.
So far, only 15 to 20% of cases have become severe. Those with weakened immune systems may develop more serious symptoms, like pneumonia or bronchitis. So far, only people 40 years old and older have developed the Wuhan coronavirus infection.
What causes a coronavirus?
Humans first get a coronavirus from contact with animals. Then, it can spread from human to human. Health officials do not know what animal caused the Wuhan coronavirus.
The Wuhan coronavirus can be spread when one human comes into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as droplets in a cough. It might also be caused by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your hand to your mouth, nose, or eyes.
Officials do not know who transmits the Wuhan coronavirus most or where most infections occur.
How is a coronavirus diagnosed?
If you believe you may have a coronavirus, you should see your doctor immediately. Before just showing up to your doctor’s office, alert your doctor that you’re coming and why. This will allow the office to prepare and perhaps isolate patients to prevent the spread of infection. To diagnose you, your doctor will run tests to rule out other common infections.
Can a coronavirus be prevented or avoided?
There are currently no vaccines for coronavirus. Try to avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
If you are traveling to an area where the Wuhan coronavirus is present, speak with your doctor first.
Symptoms of a coronavirus usually go away on their own. If symptoms feel worse than a common cold, see your doctor. He or she may prescribe pain or fever medication.
As with a cold, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest.
Living with a coronavirus
If you have the Wuhan coronavirus, your doctor will advise you to stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Symptoms will usually go away on their own.
When possible, avoid contact with others when you can to avoid getting them sick.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What can I do to prevent my friends and family from getting the Wuhan coronavirus?
- What over-the-counter medicines work best for my symptoms?
- Am I at risk of complications because of the Wuhan coronavirus?
- What should I watch for that could mean there are complications?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.