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Facts Not Fear | What you need to know about the COVID-19 outbreak

As concerns about coronavirus spread, misleading information can multiply too. So we're focusing only on the facts and the info you need to know.

COVID-19, a new coronavirus originating from China, has sparked global concern as the outbreak grows. While the risk to those in the U.S. still remains low, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended the American public prepare for the possibility of an outbreak. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. response to the global outbreak.

With all the concerns about coronavirus, there is frankly a lot of information out there, including misleading info. 

So we're focusing on the facts, not fear. Here's everything we know about the virus so far, and how you can be prepared just in case.

What is a coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

How did this virus get its name?

On Feb. 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced the official name for the new coronavirus virus would be COVID-19. "CO" stands for "corona," "VI" stands for "virus," D stands for "disease" and 19 indicates the year the virus was first discovered. 

Prior to this, the virus was referred to as the "2019 novel coronavirus," which means it was a new strain not previously identified in humans. 

The WHO Director-General also stressed that giving a disease an official name prevents the use of other names that could be inaccurate or stigmatizing.  

Where did COVID-19 come from? 

The World Health Organization states that coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted from animals to people. 

A specific animal source of COVID-19 has not been identified, but the virus has been linked to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the CDC, patients diagnosed with this coronavirus experience a mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patents with severe complications from the virus often develop pneumonia in both lungs. 

How does the virus spread?

The virus is spread person-to-person. According to the CDC, spread is happening mainly between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) of each other via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets land on the noses and mouths of other people, who then inhale them. 

The CDC says it may be possible for the virus to spread by touching a surface or object with the virus and then a person touching their mouth, nose or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main method of spread. As the virus was discovered just a few months ago, more research is required to learn more about the spread pattern of the virus.

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How do I protect myself and others?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or medication to directly treat COVID-19. Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. The CDC recommends maintaining personal preventative actions such as: 

- Avoiding close contact with those who are sick

- Not touching your eyes, mouth or nose, especially with unwashed hands

- Washing your hands often with soap and warm water for last least 20 seconds

- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched

- Stay home if you are sick

- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue

There also is no need for members of the general public to wear surgical masks to guard against coronavirus. Individuals should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it.

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

If you think you are sick and are exhibiting symptoms, the first step is to think about how sick you are, according to Dr. Brenda Braxton, who works at Adventist Health in Oregon. She says if your symptoms are mild, the best course of action is to stay home and "manage" it out. 

"The concern is we have two different issues: one is the individual and one is the community," she said. "We want to avoid spreading this to the community. The last place to go to if you have a mild disease is the clinic or the emergency room.

Dr. Braxton stressed most people who contract the illness will get better without any long-term effects. "About 82% of cases tend to be mild," she said. "What we see is their symptoms diminish over five to seven days. They’re still capable of transmitting the disease. But that’s how it will play out for most people. When you look at people who have higher risk, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma and other vascular disease problems, they’re going to be at higher risk of having a more severe disease."

If you have more severe symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to get more information and decide if you must be admitted to the hospital. 

Avoid contact with other people, avoid going out in public and delay any travel to avoid spreading the illness. 

Is there a cure for the virus? 

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. Once infected, there is not an antiviral treatment available for COVID-19. People should take care to avoid being exposed to the virus and seek medical care to relieve symptoms if infected with the virus.

Have there been cases of the coronavirus in the U.S.? 

Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on Jan. 21, 2020. 

As of March 3,  there are 108 cases of persons infected with the virus in the U.S. Of those infected, 48 of then involve people repatriated to the U.S. from Wuhan, China or from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship that was quarantined in Japan.

There are 60 total cases of infection detected in the U.S. through public health surveillance systems. 22 of these 60 cases are travel-related, and 11 are believed to be through person-to-person spread. The sources of 27 infections are still under investigation.

Cases have been reported in 12 states.

The CDC provides updated numbers on U.S. cases of the virus on its website.

How can I prepare for an outbreak?

The risk to the general public remains low but individuals and communities can still prepare for the possibility that an outbreak may occur. 

In a press conference on Feb. 25, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC's director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said individuals and communities can implement "non-pharmaceutical intervention" methods to reduce the risk of an outbreak. 

Individuals should call their local schools and inquire about teleschooling options. Parents should also make a game plan now for child care in the event that a school has to close. 

Businesses can prepare by putting in place plans to replace in-person meetings with teleconferences and allowing employees to work remotely when possible. Communities can also modify, postpone or cancel large gatherings, where close contact provides an opportunity for infection.

What is a pandemic? How is a pandemic different from an epidemic or an outbreak? 

According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. 

While an outbreak is the sudden rise in cases of a disease in a particular place, an epidemic refers to a large outbreak that spreads among a region or population. WHO and the CDC have classified the outbreak of COVID-19 in China an epidemic. 

While there are cases of COVID-19 in many countries outside of China, WHO has not yet categorized it as a global pandemic. Many countries with COVID-19 infections have reported very few people infected and even fewer, if any, deaths. 

Credit: TEGNA
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