What is a Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a common type of virus, which infects the sinuses, nose, and upper throat. While most types of coronaviruses are not dangerous, some can be life-threatening. A coronavirus can cause something as mild as a common cold, but they are most well known for the outbreaks of SARS and MERS in 2002 and 2012.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, known by the acronym SARS, appeared in Guangdong, China in 2002 and is thought to have originated in bats. The 2002 outbreak totaled 8,098 cases, the majority in China, with 774 deaths reported over 17 countries. Coronavirus did not cause another significant outbreak until the 2012 appearance of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. MERS was also traced to animal origins, a common source for coronavirus transmission. First found in Saudi Arabia, MERS eventually caused 2,494 confirmed cases, with 858 fatalities.

Coronavirus has recently become a concern to many people due to the outbreak of a new type of coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China in 2019. Given the provisional name 2019-nCoV, the Wuhan coronavirus was designated as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization on January 30, 2020, following reports of the virus spreading outside of China. As of February 11, 2020, 43,114 cases have been confirmed with 7,345 of them considered serious. The official fatality count stands at 1,018 as of February 11, 2020.

Symptoms of Coronavirus Infection

Generally, the symptoms of a coronavirus infection include cough, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, and a fever in some cases. In children, a coronavirus infection can also lead to middle ear infections. Most people with such symptoms cannot differentiate whether it is a coronavirus infection or any other type of upper respiratory infection like that caused by a rhinovirus. Lab tests, such as nose and throat cultures as well as blood tests, may help to identify whether the cold-like symptoms are caused by a coronavirus.

The symptoms of a coronavirus infection can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications and bed rest. You may see an improvement in your condition within a few days. Nonetheless, if the coronavirus infection spreads to your lower respiratory tract, moving to your windpipe and lungs, then it can cause pneumonia and other severe complications. Those most vulnerable to serious complications are the same as those susceptible to serious cold or flu complications: those already ill, the very young and the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. If you or someone immuno-susceptible is experience strong symptoms like those associated with a cold or flu, you should visit your nearest low-income health clinic.

Should I Worry About Coronavirus Infection?

Almost everyone in the US is infected by a type of coronavirus at least once in their life, usually in the fall and winter seasons. Preventative measures advised for any other cold or flu virus are just as effective on the spread of coronaviruses because most coronaviruses have the same transmission vectors. As you would during cold and flu season, be sure to wash your hands often, sneeze or cough into a tissue or the crook of your arm, and avoid exposure to infected individuals and areas known to have infected individuals.

While coronavirus infections almost always cause mild illness for an otherwise healthy adult in the US, the 2019-nCoV is not fully understood and is still considered to be a danger to public health. The Centers for Disease Control believes that the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is low, but advises that everyone who is able should get a flu vaccine and practice appropriate preventative measures. It’s important to ensure that any information you receive comes from a reputable source, such as the CDC. If you experience persistent or intense flu symptoms, we recommend making a visit to your primary care physician.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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