Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. A “novel” coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
COVID-19’s animal-to-person spread was suspected after the initial outbreak among people who had a link to a large seafood and live animal market. Because it’s so new, very little is known about how this coronavirus acts. And since there is no vaccine and no established immunity from past cycles, experts believe everyone is susceptible.
While animals were the original source of the virus, it is now being spread from person to person. What makes the new coronavirus so dangerous to humans is simply that we don’t have any way to fight it. The virus isn’t necessarily more powerful than other viruses when it enters the human body, but we have no pre-existing defenses since our bodies don’t immediately recognize it as a dangerous intruder.
There is not enough information yet to determine how easily this virus spreads between people, but it’s estimated that on average one infected person will infect between two and three more. The virus seems to be transmitted mainly via respiratory droplets when people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
Scientists have studied seasonal flu for decades, so we know a lot about flu viruses and what to expect each season. That’s one of the reasons we have to get annual flu shots. The strain of the influenza virus that strikes each winter changes from year to year. So, each year, flu experts have to create a new vaccine based on the type of flu they predict will circulate that year.
In contrast, very little is known about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes. This means COVID-19 is something of a wild card in terms of how far it will spread and how many deaths it will cause. And to date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat this type of coronavirus.
The CDC recommends the following to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, which include both coronaviruses and flu viruses:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
Avoid close contact with people who are sick
Stay home when you are sick
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.