The new virus: What we do - and don't - know - Harvard Health Blog

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The new virus: What we do - and don't - know - Harvard Health Blog
A rapidly evolving health story broke in late December when a novel illness originating in Wuhan, China made the news. Reports of the number of infected people swiftly rose, and isolated cases of this new coronavirus - dubbed 2019-nCoV by scientists - have appeared in several countries due to international travel.


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The new virus

They are a group of viruses that cause respiratory infections, including the common cold.
They can infect certain animals and spread from one animal to another. They can reach t...


The symptoms

Common symptoms: coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. Non-respiratory symptoms (feeling nauseous, vomiting having diarrhea) were also reported.
The virus is mo...


Spreading the virus

Coughs or sneezes from an infected person are the most likely to spread the virus. So it's essential to follow basic hygiene rules:

  • Wash your hand often during the...


The new virus concerns

At the end of December 2019, concerns regarding a new form of illness related to the new virus arose in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has spread in several other countries due to internationa...



The New Virus and The Flu

According to health officials, tens of thousands of Americans die from the flu each year, while the new virus has far less infected. 

But the new virus may, in fact, be deadlier, and th...

Contagious And Hidden

  • The new virus is contagious, with a high reproduction rate.
  • The people who aren't displaying any outside symptoms are also contagious, making the new virus difficult or even impossible to control.
  • Currently, no one knows how many people are carrying the dormant virus in them while displaying no symptoms.

No Cure So Far

Older people and those with weak immunity are more susceptible to the virus. Children, who get infected severely by the flu are only showing mild or no symptoms to the new virus.

Flu infects far more people but there are vaccines for it. The new virus currently has no treatment or vaccination.

Current data for the severity of the virus shows that 80 percent have a mild infection, 15 percent had a severe illness and 5 percent critical illness.

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Spreading and deactivation

The new virus spreads most commonly through invisible respiratory droplets sent into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets that can be inhaled by nearby people or land on surf...

Sticking in the air /on surfaces

  • The new virus is thought to persist in the air for up to 3 hours and for 2 to 3 days on stainless steel and plastic surfaces.
  • The new virus has been detected in feces, suggesting the virus could be spread by people who don’t properly wash their hands after using the bathroom.
  • There is no indication that it spreads through drinking water, swimming pools, or hot tubs.

Bleach and the outdoors

  • The disinfectant most commonly used outdoors is a diluted solution of sodium hypochlorite (household bleach). But it’s unclear whether bleach destroys viruses outside, and if it does kill them on surfaces it's unclear whether it would kill viruses in the air.
  • UV light seems to destroy the new virus as well. Bleach itself breaks down under ultraviolet (UV) light.

Outbreak terms

  • Endemic is a disease that regularly infects humans, like the flu.
  • Pandemic is a worldwide spread of a new disease. 
  • Epidemic

Public health measures

  • Social distancing is a slew of tactics meant to keep people at a six feet distance from each other to keep droplets from an infected person's nose or mouth from landing on another person.
  • Quarantine is restricting the movement of, or isolating, people who might have been exposed to an infection but who aren't sick.
  • Isolation is separating people with confirmed or probable infections from other healthy people.
  • Lockdown is a term used by public health officials or lawyers to refer to anything from mandatory geographic quarantine to non-mandatory recommendations to shelter in place, to anything in between.
  • Cordon sanitaire is the restriction of movement in and out of a region or city.
  • Shelter in place is an order requesting people to stay at home, except for trips to the grocery store, pharmacies, and other essential errands.

Medical equipment

  • A ventilator is a machine that assists a patient in breathing when they have trouble breathing on their own.
  • PPE (Personal protective equipment), such as masks, gloves, face shields, and other gear that keeps health care workers from catching an infection.
  • A respirator is a face mask that seals around the mouth and filters out particles from the air before they are breathed in.
  • Surgical mask or face mask are loose-fitting masks that don't filter out all the particles but stop a wearer from spreading droplets of contagion when they sneeze or cough.

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