Coronavirus Background and Facts
Updated March 24, 2020
The name of this new virus is SARS-CoV-2, and it causes the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It is a new strain discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, not seen before in humans. It a Novel (new) Coronavirus, so no antibodies exist in humans to protect us against it.
As is the case in many medical terms, the name corona comes from Latin, where it means crown. So named because the virus resembles a crown in its shape when viewed with an electron microscope.
The new disease caused by this virus named novel coronavirus, but in February 2020, the World Health Organization gave it the name COVID-19; the 19 refers to 2019, the year of its discovery.
Where did it come from?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic; this means they transmit between animals and humans. The SARS-CoV virus mentioned above was transmitted from civet cats to humans and the MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. While the virus that caused the outbreak of SARS in 2003 and the current COVID-19 virus are genetically related, the diseases they cause are very different. There are several known coronaviruses in animals that have not yet infected humans. A species that carry many viruses, including coronaviruses, are bats. Infected bats being butchered and sold in the wet markets of Wuhan, China, may have been the source of the current pandemic. Someone involved in the butchering or the preparation of the butchered meat became contaminated and then spread the disease to others. While not been confirmed, but is a very likely explanation.
What are the Symptoms?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. The symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. About 1 out of 6 people become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. Older people (over 60-65 years) and those with pre-existing conditions that suppress their immune systems (like heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes) are more likely to develop severe illness. People with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.
How does it spread?
Infection with COVID-19 occurs from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth when the infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on surfaces that someone else touches. If that person then rubs their eyes or touches their nose or mouth, they can contaminate themselves. They may also breathe in the droplets if close to an infected person. Current studies suggest that the virus is mainly transmitted as described above rather than through the air. It is not a blood-borne disease transmitted by mosquitos, as some conspiracy theories have suggested.
One worry is that an infected individual who is showing no signs or very mild signs of the infection can be shedding the virus and can transmit it to others.
How can you protect yourself?
Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak available from reliable sources. We'll provide links to useful sources of information below.
Wash your hands regularly and often. Wash for at least 20 seconds, that's about how long it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice.
You must social distance yourself from others, especially in closed spaces; be careful of elevators. Some sources, even the WHO, tell you to stay about 3 feet away while at the same time telling health professionals to stay 6 feet away. I'd go with the 6-foot recommendation to health professionals.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. You have to become ultra-aware of what you are doing. I keep my hands washed and carry hand sanitizer in my car. If I go into a store or a client's home or business, I use the hand sanitizer before I go in and immediately upon reentering my car. While out of my car, I do not touch my face. I also carry hand sanitizer with me so I can use it as often as I think may be needed.
Make sure you and others around you cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze. They say to cough into your elbow and not into your hands. A good suggestion, but not always possible. That's why I carry hand sanitizer on me, so I can use it if I cough or sneeze into my hand. The important thing here is to cover so you don't spray the possibly infected droplets into the air where they may linger for several minutes.
If you aren't feeling well, stay home.
Remember, the elderly (your parents and grandparents or me) are the most vulnerable to this infection. Do what you must to isolate yourself to protect those around you.
If you do develop the symptoms, call your doctor for guidance. Don't rush out to a crowded emergency room. Let health-care professionals know you may be infected so they can adequately isolate, mask, and protect themselves and others from your nasty germs.
Is there a vaccine available?
No. Vaccines and other treatments are under development, and phase 1 testing has started on one vaccine. It could be 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is available. Similarly, drugs for treating the disease are under development.
Are Antibiotics available to prevent or treat the disease?
No. Antibiotics do not work on viruses; they only work on bacterial infections.
Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure the COVID-19 disease?
Some home remedies may provide some comfort and alleviate some symptoms of COVID-19, but there is no medical evidence that current medical practices can prevent or cure the disease.
Should you wear a mask?
Only wear a mask if you are ill unless you are caring for someone who is sick. At the moment, many of the protective supplies needed by the doctors, nurses, and first-responders are in short supply. A disposable mask, once used, is discarded. If you do need to use a mask, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before putting it on. Also, inspect it for damage, and be sure there are no holes in it.
If I think I’ve been exposed, how long will it be before I know if I have the disease?
The “incubation period” is the time between catching the disease and beginning to show symptoms. The estimates right now are anywhere from 1-14 days, with day five being the most common; this may change as more information comes in.
Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?
That’s an excellent question. Some medical professionals recommend limiting your contact with pets if you are infected. There was one report of a dog getting infected in Hong Kong. Still, there is no evidence, at this time, that any dog or cat has spread the disease from one human to another. Having said that, my dog, Sienna, a labradoodle puppy that’s almost one year old, loves to get into my lap and lick my face when she needs to go outside. I could imagine a scenario in which my wife or I am infected, Sienna comes up and licks one of us and then goes right over and licks the other person. Could that action spread the disease? Possibly, I have no evidence one way or another.
How long does the virus survive on surfaces?
A new study indicates that the coronavirus can live for three days on some surfaces, like plastic and steel. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020, suggests the virus disintegrates over a day on cardboard. Experts say the risk of consumers getting infected from touching those materials is low. Understand that the virus can’t penetrate your skin cells, so your skin is your first line of defense in this and many diseases. Thoroughly washing your hands kills and removes the virus from your hands. That’s why you want to wash your hands or at least use hand sanitizer after touching surfaces before you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Consider any surface, like shopping carts, shelves, doorknobs, etc. to be infected and act accordingly to protect yourself.
Can UV (Ultraviolet) lamps be used to sterilize hands?
Dr. Hafsa Akbar Ali published a study in 2018 titled “Killing Viruses with UV Light.” Ultraviolet (UV) radiation lies between wavelengths of about 400 nanometers on the visible-light side and about 10 nm on the X-ray side. Based on the interaction of wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation with biological materials, three divisions are designated. UVA (400-315 nm) called blacklight; UVB (315 - 280 nm) responsible for the radiation’s best-known effects of organisms; and UVC (280-100 nm), which does not reach the Earth’s surface. Most of the sun’s UV radiation is absorbed by oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere, which forms the ozone layer. Of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface, almost 99% is UVA radiation.
Manufacturers build UV lamps designed to try to stop the spread of seasonal flu in public spaces such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, libraries, etc.. An Ultraviolet light is effective and efficient in killing germs, microbes, bacteria, and viruses. There are UV devices used for sterilization of medical equipment in hospitals, but these are not safe for humans to be around.
Studies have shown that a broad-spectrum germicidal UV lamp with a wavelength between 200-400 nm is efficient in killing bacteria, microbes, and viruses by breaking the bonds that hold DNA together.
UV radiation can cause cancer. However, a lamp built to give off UVC light has a limited range and cannot go through the outer dead cell layer of the human skin and isn’t harmful to humans.
Interestingly, this 17-year old student in Washington State named Avi Schiffmann developed a website in December 2019 that automatically tracts information world-wide about the spread of the disease. Here is a link to his site ncov2019.live
The disease is in an exponential growth phase doubling the number of infections about every 6 days. The actual number of infections will never be known because not everyone is being tested. In fact, in the United States as of March 18, 2020 there were 7,038 total known cases and 97 deaths with 54 jurisdictions reporting cases including all 5o states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. Here’s a link to the CDC page.
As far as testing in the US is concerned, here are the numbers from the CDC. As of March 18, 2020 only 4,484 specimens were tested by CDC labs and 33,340 specimens by U.S. public health laboratories. Compare that to 10,000 tests per day being performed by South Korea. When you consider the United States population is 327,167,434 people as of July 1, 2018, we have a ways to go before we’ll have any handle on the actual number of cases.
I hope this information and the links provided here are helpful. We all need to do our part to change our habits and keep each other safe. No shaking hands or hugging, cover your cough or sneeze, keep a safe distance of at least 6 feet from other people and stay home if you aren’t feeling well. This is going to be around for a long time, and I mean forever. Now that it is wild in the population, we’ll have to learn to live with it just like we did for the common cold, the flu, measles, etc. Some day in the next 12 - 18 months we’ll likely have a vaccine for this strain and that will help a lot. However, there’s no evidence to say that it can’t mutate over time making the new vaccine worthless. We see that every year wit the flu. Scientists make their best guess as to which strain of the influenza virus will crop up in the next flu season and develop vaccines for that. Sometimes they even get it partially right, but it’s never 100% correct.
For more late breaking news and links to useful resources, see my Coronavirus News and Resources Page.