US Pharm. 2020;Epub March 23, 2020.

A Newly Discovered Virus Strain

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that can infect humans and animals. There are several types of coronavirus, some more common than others. Common coronavirus strains (229E, NL63, OC43, or HKU1) cause mild illness, like the common cold. Some coronaviruses originated in animals but mutated into new human viruses. The most recent examples of these are MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), and SARS-CoV-2, the newly discovered coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. In December 2019, pneumonia associated with the COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, at a wholesale meat and seafood market where the virus jumped from an animal at the market over to humans.

Mostly Spread Via Direct Contact

Since COVID-19 is a new virus, most of what we know about how it spreads is based on other viruses such as SARS and MERS. The virus appears to require close contact for human-to-human transmission (i.e., within 6 feet). It primarily spreads via droplets released when someone sneezes or coughs. The droplets can land in the nose, eyes, or mouths of those nearby and lead to infection. COVID-19 appears to spread easily from person to person. Transmission can also occur when one touches their eyes, nose, and mouth after touching a surface where droplets have landed. However, this does not appear to be the primary mode of COVID-19 transmission.

Like many flu viruses, the COVID-19 virus causes an illness with symptoms such as fever, tiredness, cough, and shortness of breath. Some may experience body aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. The symptoms are usually mild and appear gradually, typically between 2-14 days of exposure, and range in severity from very mild symptoms to more severe symptoms and even death. The virus seems to be most contagious when people are demonstrating symptoms or are sickest.

Complications Similar to Influenza

Around one out of every six people who become infected with COVID-19 become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes, are more likely to develop severe illness. Overall mortality seems similar to the flu, with about 2% of infected people dying.

The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone without symptoms is very low. Early in the disease, people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. So, it is possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has only a mild cough and does not feel or appear ill.

Preventing COVID-19 Spread

At the time of this publishing, there was no developed vaccine or antiviral medication available for the treatment or prevention of the COVID-19 virus. However, possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are being tested in clinical trials. Prevention is always the best approach. The CDC recommends general preventative measures, including handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; practicing social distancing; covering your face when coughing or sneezing; throwing any used tissues into the trash; and frequently disinfecting surfaces you may touch.

People without respiratory symptoms, such as cough, do not need to wear a medical mask. The World Health Organization recommends the use of masks for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 and for those caring for individuals who have symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms, have recently traveled outside of the United States, or have been close to someone infected with COVID-19, see your doctor immediately. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.

Your healthcare provider, the CDC, and trusted healthcare professionals are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is known to exist in your area.

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