The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), known colloquially as coronavirus, is a new type respiratory illness first identified in Wuhan, China. It has since gone on to claim more lives than the 2002/2003 SARs outbreak, prompting global fears of a potential pandemic.
Person-to-person infection occurs through respiratory droplets – when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, and you breathe it in. And whilst infection severity can vary widely, with many infected individuals exhibiting minor respiratory distress – akin to a cold or flu – the bulk of primary infection symptoms start between 2 and 14 days after the initial exposure, and include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Many of those infected with 2019-nCoV have gone on to develop pneumonia in both lungs, and whilst there is a test for 2019-nCoV, no vaccine or specific treatment yet exists.
What are coronavirus infections?
Coronaviruses are a group of common viruses so named for the crown-like spikes that appear on the surface of the virus. Some coronaviruses only affect animals, but others can also affect humans form some of the most common virus types. In fact, most people will become infected with human coronaviruses at some point in their life. This usually causes mild to moderate upper-respiratory infections, like the common cold, but they can also cause more severe illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
There are several different types of human coronaviruses, including the the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses.
How are coronavirus infections spread?
Human coronaviruses usually spread from an infected person to others through
- The air by coughing and sneezing
- Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
- Rarely, feces (poop)
Who is at risk for coronavirus infections?
Anyone can get a coronavirus infection, but young children and the elderly are most at risk for infection. At the time of writing, there have been no recorded incidents of Novel Coronavirus infection in South Africa, but those with weak or compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of infection, so it’s a good idea to maintain a healthy diet and take a regular multivitamin – especially during the winter months.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus infections?
The symptoms depend on the type of coronavirus and how serious the infection is. If you have a mild to moderate upper-respiratory infection such as the common cold, your symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Not feeling well overall
Some coronaviruses can cause severe symptoms and these infections may turn into bronchitis and pneumonia, which cause symptoms such as:
- Fever, which may be quite high if you have pneumonia
- Cough with mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness when you breathe and cough
Severe infections are more common in people with heart or lung diseases, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and the elderly.
How are coronavirus infections diagnosed?
To make a diagnosis, your health care provider will
- Take your medical history, including asking about your symptoms
- Do a physical exam
- May do blood tests
- May do lab tests of sputum, a sample from a throat swab, or other respiratory specimens
What are the treatments for coronavirus infections?
There are currently no specific treatments for coronavirus infections. Most people will get better on their own. However, you can relieve your symptoms by
- Taking over-the-counter medicines for pain, fever, and cough. However, do not give aspirin to children. And do not give cough medicine to children under four.
- Using a room humidifier or taking a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking fluids
If you are worried about your symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately.
Can coronavirus infections be prevented?
Right now, there aren’t any vaccines to prevent human coronavirus infections. But you may able to reduce your risk of getting or spreading an infection by
- Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoiding touching your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Then throw away the tissue and wash your hands.
- Staying home when sick