Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that have a halo of spiked proteins on their outer surface that look like a crown (corona) under the microscope. They are known to infect many animals and humans.
There are seven types of coronaviruses that infect humans – four of these cause mild upper respiratory tract infections (common cold like illness). The other three have jumped from animals to humans causing more severe disease:
- SARS-CoV — cause of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
- MERS-CoV — cause of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
- SARS-CoV-2 — cause of current/recent respiratory illness COVID-19
In all of the above three cases, viruses are thought to have jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal host. SARS virus moved from bats to raccoon dogs and then to humans; MERS virus moved from bats to camels and then to humans. The current SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to have moved from bats to pangolins and then to humans. Pangolins are consumed by some Chinese as a delicacy, as they are thought to provide health benefits.
COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease – 19)
The “19” refers to the year 2019, which is when the disease was first detected.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Wuhan is the city in Central China where the pandemic seems to have started.
How does one get infected?
An infected person (who may or may not have symptoms) sheds viruses in the air while coughing, sneezing, or breathing heavily, or viruses may be deposited on surfaces touched by an infected person. These viral particles infect other persons by entering through the nose, mouth, or eyes. Coughing or sneezing may spread the virus through about 6 feet in air. So one may get infected by being in close contact with an infected person or by touching surfaces with virus particles and then touching one’s face (mouth, nose, or eyes). We do not know yet how many days after acquiring the infection one starts shedding virus.
In laboratory conditions, the virus can survive for about 3 hours in air and about 1–4 days on surfaces (particularly steel and plastic; the virus survives for only a few hours on copper).
After the virus enters the mouth or nose, it migrates down into the throat and lungs, causing pneumonia.
Can pets get COVID-19? Can pets give the disease to humans?
As per experts at CDC and WHO, there is no evidence that pets are getting sick from this virus or are transmitting it to humans. As a general precaution, infected persons should restrict contact with pets anyway.
What are the symptoms?
Mild disease (almost 80% of cases) —
- Dry cough (usually no phlegm/sputum, but still possible)
- Sore throat
- Other symptoms may be headache, chills, body aches, nasal congestion/phlegm, vomiting, or diarrhea
Severe disease (about 14%) — above symptoms + difficulty breathing, labored breathing; decreased blood oxygen saturation
Critical disease (about 5%) — above symptoms + respiratory failure causing cyanosis (blue fingers/lips and need for ICU admission) + other organ failure
There are asymptomatic patients, those who are infected but do not have any symptoms, but it is difficult to ascertain how many are out there.
Who is at risk of getting severe/critical disease or death?
Severe disease is seen in those who:
1. Are older (above age 60, especially above age 70)
2. Have associated conditions: Diabetes, chronic lung disease (asthma, fibrosis, COPD), cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, immunosuppression (for transplant, autoimmune diseases).
Children seem to have less severe disease and are therefore thought to be “transporting” the virus.
How long does the illness last?
Usually, patients develop symptoms 5–6 days after getting infected and get better in 1–2 weeks if mild disease. Severe disease may last 3–6 weeks. Most of the patients survive; about 2–3% die from critical illness. At present, we do not know long-term effects of the disease.
What can you do to protect yourself and prevent spread?
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Wash with soap and water for 20 seconds (the time it takes you to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice). However, do not keep water running (save water).
- Wash your hands as above before eating and after using the restroom, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
- If you cannot wash your hands, then use a hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).
- Avoid touching your face, particularly eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your face with your elbow or a tissue. If you use tissue, then promptly throw away the tissue in a dust bin, and wash or sanitize your hands as above.
- Regularly disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, drawer handles, counter tops, faucets, light switches, cell phones, computer keyboards, elevator buttons, and handrails; use alcohol-based wipes (not baby wipes), bleach, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide. Use a tissue if you have to touch surfaces in public places.
- Avoid close contact with sick people — stay 6 feet away (“social distancing”).
- If you are sick, stay home and wear a respiratory mask to avoid spreading the infection. Stay in a specific room and away from other people. Use a separate bathroom if possible. Limit contact with pets and animals.
- Avoid crowds (especially in closed spaces), including malls, movie theaters, sports events, and churches or temples.
- Avoid gathering of more than 10 people.
- Avoid all non-essential travel.
- Be sure to have medicines and medical supplies to treat fever and sore throat, and have enough household items and groceries (to avoid going out) for 2 weeks.
Where should you go if you think you are sick from COVID-19?
Call your primary doctor’s office and tell them you may be sick from Coronavirus — testing could be arranged without visiting doctor’s office. The test includes obtaining a swab from the nose, which must be done by a primary physician’s office staff or at a hospital ER/urgent care; laboratory personnel cannot obtain the swab.
Call 911 if you are having difficulty breathing, blue fingers/lips, confusion, or chest pain.
COVID-19 for the public from WHO (videos):
COVID-19 information from CDC:
Cases where you live:
Where to get tested in your area: