Since it was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a global health issue. According to the most recent information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the outbreak is responsible for more than 164,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 6,470 deaths—most of which occurred in China—worldwide. Here in the US, the CDC has confirmed 1,629 cases of COVID-19.
Clearly, the Wuhan coronavirus has caused quite a panic worldwide. To make matters worse, China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei made a startling statement recently, claiming that people can spread the disease before they become symptomatic. “This is a game changer,” William Schaffner, MD, a longtime adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said per CNN. “It means the infection is much more contagious than we originally thought. This is worse than we anticipated.”
While it’s important to know that the immediate health risk is considered “low” for most Americans at this time, per the CDC, the government agency is still taking proactive preparedness precautious—and it doesn’t hurt for the public to at least be aware of what the symptoms of coronavirus look like, just in case. And considering the US is in the midst of a pretty nasty cold and flu season already, here’s what to watch out for when it comes to the new coronavirus and how it differs from other illnesses.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
First of all, coronaviruses are a group of different viruses—and the symptoms of the current newsworthy strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, differ from other coronavirus strains. According to the CDC, there are three main symptoms of the current illness: Fever, cough, and shortness of breath—all symptoms similar to the common cold or flu.
The CDC explains that “at this time” symptoms appear to arise in as few as 2 days after exposure or as long as 14 days after. “This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses [another type of coronavirus].” Even scarier, is that some people with the virus show “little to no symptoms,” while others fall “severely ill” and die.
“What we know is it causes pneumonia and then doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, which is not surprising, but then in terms of mortality, SARS [another type of coronavirus] kills 10% of the individuals,” Scientist Leo Poon, a virologist at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, who first decoded the virus, told CNN recently.
Because symptoms of COVID-19 are so similar to those of the cold or flu, it’s important not to jump to conclusions—especially if you live in the US, since, per the CDC, this strain of coronavirus hasn’t been spread from person-to-person within the US yet (all infected people have recently traveled to Wuhan, China). Still, if you are experiencing fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests seeking medical care early, sharing any previous travel history with your healthcare provider.
How can you protect yourself from coronavirus?
The WHO suggests a variety of safety measures to take to keep yourself safe from the novel coronavirus, which include hand and respiratory hygiene.
First and foremost, it’s advised that people frequently clean their hands with soap and water or by using alcohol-based hand gel. It’s also important that, when coughing and sneezing, people always cover their mouth and nose with their elbow or a tissue (and then immediately throw that used tissue away and wash their hands). People should also try their best to avoid others who have a fever or cough.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, because if the virus is on your hands, it can enter your body through your mucus membranes and make yourself sick, says WHO.
It’s also important to maintain “social distancing”—leaving a buffer zone of about 6 feet between people to prevent person-to-person transmission, the CDC recommends.
Clean and disinfect any surfaces your touch daily, the CDC adds. And, by all means, if you are sick, stay home and recover. If you develop serious symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.