“The threat is serious, and our public health response is aggressive,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the coronavirus outbreak. The World Health Organization has declared it a public health emergency, which requires countries to step up their response to the crisis and reinforces a worldwide response.

The latest information about the coronavirus (officially labeled as 2019-nCoV) is changing rapidly and a great deal is yet to be learned about this deadly virus outbreak. The CDC is calling on medical providers to have a “high index of suspicion” about any patient with fever and acute respiratory (breathing problems) illness.

More than 10 cases in the United States have been confirmed and more than 130 patients from 26 states are under investigation for coronavirus infection. All these patients had direct travel to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. More cases are expected in the United States over the next weeks.

More than 8,100 cases have been confirmed in China. At press time, more than 14,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide. At least 170 people in China have died from the virus. Travel in and out of Wuhan, China has been stopped. There is limited access to adequate medical care in many of the affected areas of China.

This is a new coronavirus that had not been previously identified. It was first identified December 2019. The first victims had contact with a large market that sold live animals and seafood. This suggests an animal-to-human transfer of the virus. Transmission of the virus is now believed to be only from person-to-person.

Coronaviruses are common in many types of animals and transmission to people is rare. However, health officials believe this new coronavirus has jumped from animals to people. It can spread easily and quickly among people.


The CDC says the virus can spread before any symptoms appear. The main way it spreads is through coughing, sneezing or other respiratory droplets that move through the air, usually when you’re in close contact with an infected person.

Older adults, children and people with chronic conditions or illness are most at risk for the illness and death. If you think you may be coming down with flu-like symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has them, see your doctor or other health care provider immediately.

Symptoms can appear in as few as two days or as long as two weeks after exposure. The most common coronavirus symptoms are like any influenza (flu) and include:

  • Fever (take your temperature twice a day but not within 30 min. of eating or drinking)
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • General feeling of being unwell

More severe coronavirus cases can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, severe breathing problems, kidney failure or death. This is more common in people with heart disease, weakened immune systems, and in infants and older adults. If your illness is getting worse – especially if you are having trouble breathing – get medical care quickly.


Diagnosis is through a laboratory test of your spit and sometimes blood.

There is no vaccine at this time and even if it is developed, it may not be available for this outbreak. Treatment is focused on supportive care to help relieve symptoms. Severe cases should include treatment to support the vital organs and keep them functioning.

Coronavirus should not be confused with the common cold. Both are respiratory (breathing) illnesses but are caused by different viruses. Flu is much worse than a cold and the symptoms are more intense. Flu can cause very serious complications, even death. Most people recover from a bad cold in a week and do not have complications. Recovery from flu takes longer.


Without a vaccine available, the only prevention is to avoid being exposed to the virus. According to the CDC, to prevent the spread of this (and all other viruses) use these precautions:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with sick people or in the same room or care area.
  • Isolate yourself in a separate room from other people in your home, including a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Call ahead to your doctor before the visit to alert them to your illness. They will need to protect other patients and the medical staff.
  • Wear a facemask when you’re in the same room with other people and when you visit your doctor. If you cannot wear a mask, other people who live with you should wear one when they are in the same room with you.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw it in the trash. Immediately wash your hands. If no tissue is available use your sleeve, not your hands. Wash the clothing as soon as possible.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects such as remote controls, phones, light switches, keyboards, door and refrigerator handles, faucets, toilets, bedside tables, counter- and tabletops, etc. Use a diluted bleach solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 quart (4 cups) of water to wipe down all affected surfaces.
  • Do not share household items such as dishes, glasses, utensils, towels or bedding. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Stay away from people with weak immune systems or who have a chronic illness to avoid infecting them.
  • Thoroughly cook meat and eggs.
  • Avoid contact with animals. Several types of coronavirus can cause illness in animals and spread between animals and people. Wear a facemask if you must be around animals or care for a pet. Wash hands immediately after contact with animals or their droppings.
  • If you are caring for a person with suspected or confirmed coronavirus, wear a disposable facemask, gown and gloves when touching or in close contact with the person’s blood, body fluids or secretions including spit, sweat, coughed up mucus, vomit, urine, feces or diarrhea. Wash anything these body fluids touch. Dispose of disposable mask, gown and gloves in a lined receptacle with your other household trash. Wash your hands immediately.


Symptoms of the common cold and most types of flu are very different:

COLD SYMPTOMS                         FLU SYMPTOMS

Symptoms start gradually                   Symptoms start very quickly

Fever is rare                                       Fever is common

No or slight body aches                      Muscles and body aches all over

Chills are rare                                    Common to have chills

Fatigue/weakness are slight                Fatigue can be exhausting

Sneezing is common                          Sneezing is rare

Mild chest discomfort or cough          Strong chest discomfort and coughing

Stuffy nose is common                       None or mild nasal stuffiness

Sore throat is common                       May have sore throat but not common

Headache is rare                                Headache is common


Photo by Koldunov  Getty Images Plus