COVID-19 / Coronavirus Preparedness

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What You Should Know About Coronavirus

Health officials are advising people to seek factual information on the novel coronavirus, and to avoid panic. Here's a list of things you should know about the new disease that is spreading worldwide.

What is 'the novel coronavirus?'

The novel coronavirus is a new version of coronavirus, which is a large family of viruses that can make animals and humans sick, according to the World Health Organization. Several different coronaviruses cause respiratory infections in humans, ranging from the common cold to well-known outbreaks of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, known as MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, known as SARS. The respiratory disease caused by this new strain of coronavirus is called COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms usually start with a fever and dry cough as opposed to a runny nose, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news briefing. They typically show up anywhere between two and 14 days after exposure. Severe infections lead to pneumonia in both lungs, and the worst cases can be deadly.

What's more deadly – COVID-19 or the flu?

So far, the death rate is higher for COVID-19 than the average for annual influenza outbreaks.

"Globally, about 3.4% of reported #COVID19 cases have died," Tedros said, according to a Tweet from WHO. "By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected."

Officials have stressed that those numbers could change as more cases of COVID-19 are reported.

How could this outbreak impact the economy?

The Federal Reserve announced that it was dropping interest rates by half a percentage point. The move is an attempt to keep credit flowing and boost consumer and business confidence, according to the Associated Press.

The outbreak has disrupted global supply chains and caused stocks to slump worldwide. While business hasn't been widely affected in the U.S., the outbreak has caused factories, businesses and entire cities in parts of Asia and Europe to shut down.

Who's most at risk for getting COVID-19?

In the early weeks of the outbreak, only those who had recently traveled to an area with known infections or been exposed to someone with COVID-19 were considered "at risk." But as community transmission has spread in the U.S. and other countries, more people are being diagnosed. Health officials, including the CDC and WHO, have said most people who get the disease will only be mildly ill. Those most at risk for severe infections are the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, according to the CDC.

Children are among the least at risk so far, the CDC also said.

Are any existing drugs effective against the virus?

Unlike the flu, which can be treated with prescription medications like Tamiflu, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. Laboratories worldwide are scrambling to come up with a cure or a vaccine, but the timeline for development is at least several months, if not longer. Clinical trials of a drug called Remdesivir began last week at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Why aren't all sick people being tested?

Early testing was limited only to those deemed at risk. There were also flaws in some of the CDC's testing kits, and the kits still are not widely available. The White House has promised that as many as 1 million kits will be available.

New guidance from the CDC calls for testing patients who have a severe respiratory disease of unknown origin. That's how most of the newer cases in the U.S. have been discovered.

How can I keep from getting COVID-19?

The CDC says "the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed." The disease is most often spread by droplets when someone sneezes or coughs, and can potentially infect people within about a 6-foot radius. It can also be contracted by touching a contaminated surface, like a counter or door knob, and then touching your face.

Health officials advise staying away from people who are sick, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your face, mouth, nose or eyes.

Tedros has also advised that people in higher-risk groups might want to avoid large gatherings or other situations where they might be exposed.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

The WHO stresses that you should call your doctor or local health agency before going anywhere to be seen. They will be able to best advise you on how to proceed and where to go for treatment.

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