The Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Need to Know
The last month or so, there’s been one story that’s dominated the news all around the world: the coronavirus out of Wuhan, China. This is one of the few major viral outbreaks that have yet occurred during the age of social media and 24/7 news, so it’s not surprising that more people are paying attention, seeking out information, and are more aware of at least the basics of the virus’ existence. At the same time, there have been a lot of pieces of misinformation, rumors, and sketchy advice, remedies, and prevention guides that have circulated as a result. Still, it’s worth discussing, and the combination of interest and fear means that it can be somewhat of a challenge to separate good information from bad.
To help combat that misinformation, and provide our readers and customers with reliable, actionable information, we’ve put together a brief guide covering everything you need to know about the Wuhan coronavirus, now formally named COVID-19.
Why are We Talking about COVID-19?
First, you might be wondering why exactly we, FunGuy Inspections, are talking about COVID-19. While it is true that it’s not something we can test or inspect for (as we’ll discuss in our guide below), there are some similarities between the kinds of things we deal with (mold spores, for example) and the mechanics of the virus and how it spreads – and also how to get rid of it or sanitize your home or office. We pride ourselves on being responsive to our customers as well, and have received several inquiries about testing for COVID-19. Additionally, as we talked about above, there’s been a great deal of misinformation circulating with regards to the coronavirus.
For all of those reasons, it seemed to make the most sense for us to put together this guide and post it through our blog. It’s especially important for people to understand the basics about this virus, how it works, what the symptoms are, how it spreads, and how you can keep yourself safe. Knowing the right things to do to minimize the risk of exposure or spreading the virus is one of the ways in which we can all work together to minimize its impact. Likewise, as health officials from the CDC have recently reported, it’s likely this virus will remain with us throughout this year and into next year. It may still affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the near future, and cause thousands of deaths. Knowledge is power, and being well-informed will help you to make the right choices to protect yourself and your family.
Just as a bit of a disclaimer, it’s worth noting that we are not doctors or infectious disease specialists at FunGuy Inspections. We’ve attempted to bring together the best, current information (as of the time of writing this article) on the COVID-19 outbreak. The situation is fluid and this information can become obsolete fairly quickly. In addition, certain aspects of transmission, symptoms, and so on may vary as the virus evolves and spreads. The point here is that you should never consider information we present here as superior to or more correct than something published by an official agency like the CDC or WHO, or advice provided by your doctor or healthcare provider.
With that said, we’ve taken great pains to put together something relatively short, coherent, and informative, based on the latest actionable advice and information from some of those same professionals and resources. We encourage you to look for updates from your chosen source of reputable news, or via the US CDC website, especially as we get further from February 2020 and this guide becomes less and less current.
Background on COVID-19
COVID-19, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus or 2019-nCov, is a type of coronavirus – a class of viruses that include those that cause the common cold, as well as more serious conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) among others. The name comes from the protrusions and shape of the virus itself, which appear to give it a corona or halo under a microscope. Coronaviruses can infect humans, birds, and other mammalian species, though not all can be easily spread from one species to another, or necessarily infect all of those categories.
This particular variant, COVID-19, was first identified in late 2019 (early December), after infecting people in the Wuhan, China region. It is considered a novel coronavirus because it has never before infected or been seen in humans. It is believed to have developed at a seafood market in Wuhan. The virus itself is similar to SARS and also coronaviruses that are seen in bats, meaning bats are the likely root source of this particular virus. However, it likely went through some evolutions through an intermediary host. These kinds of markets with live animals of many species in close conditions and poor hygiene situations are breeding grounds for novel pathogens, and have been previously indicated in major outbreaks such as the SARS virus in 2003. Most experts believe the outbreak originated with a single infected animal.
Like all coronaviruses, there are no vaccines or effective antiviral treatments at this time. They are a family of RNA viruses, rather than the more robust DNA viruses (such as smallpox or herpes), and are therefore easier to sanitize and sterilize against on contaminated surfaces. Unfortunately, this does not make them easier to deal with from a human treatment standpoint, or the standpoint of transmissibility. The simplified nature of these RNA viruses also means that they evolve and mutate much more readily, making it much harder to create vaccines to protect against them.
COVID-19 originally was transmitted from animal(s) to people, but the outbreak and growth in infectious cases have proven that it is transmissible between humans. It has an incubation period of up to 14 days, though most people who are infected develop symptoms within 3 to 5 days. It is not clear if you are contagious during the incubation period. As a respiratory illness, the symptoms resemble those of a severe cold or pneumonia, including coughing, shortness of breath, fever, and similar. We’ll expand on these topics in more detail within the relevant sections of our guide below.
Status as of February 15, 2020
As of February 15, 2020, COVID-19 had infected an estimated 75,000 people, mostly in Hubei province (where Wuhan is located) in China. Cases have been confirmed in 29 countries, with over 99% of those being in China. The US has reported 15 confirmed cases thus far, and 3 recoveries, meaning 12 active cases as of this writing. These are all in people who had recently returned from Hubei province or other international travel, or those who had close contact with them while symptomatic, such as family members.
No one in the US has died from COVID-19. Globally, 1,526 confirmed deaths have been attributed to the virus. 1,523 of those have been in mainland China, with 1 each in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines.
Significant areas of China have been put under quarantine, especially in the areas around Wuhan. Official figures, which some have disputed as artificially low, find some 57 million people in Hubei province under indefinite quarantine. Travel bans have been enacted by a number of countries, including the US. Some citizens, State Department personnel, and others living or working in the Wuhan region have been evacuated, and quarantined state-side for 14 days, after which they have been released. As of this writing, none of those individuals have developed symptoms during or after the quarantine period.
For the foreseeable short-term future, it is advised that US citizens avoid any non-essential travel to China as a whole. Likewise, non-citizens who have visited China within 14 days of their arrival at US customs are being denied entry into the US for the foreseeable future.
As per the CDC, the outbreak is “not currently spreading in the community” within the US, as all cases have been isolated to travelers and those who had immediate contact with them after they got sick.
The WHO officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency as of the end of January 2020.
How COVID-19 is Transmitted
There are several methods of transmission for COVID-19, though not all are fully explored as of this time. As with any virus, the exact rate of
transmissibility at different stages of the infection in an individual is hard to quantify. It is not known if people who are incubating the virus, but have not yet developed symptoms, are contagious at all. It is understood that they are likely not very contagious, based on observed rates of infection thus far.
In general terms, COVID-19 is transmitted via aerosolized bodily fluids – typically cough or sneeze droplets that are thrown into the air. Simply breathing the same air as someone who has been infected (such as on an airplane), absent the bodily fluid contamination, is unlikely to cause infection. Person-to-person contact usually takes place in an approximately 6 foot radius from the infected person, when they sneeze or cough.
It is not yet known definitively if objects or surfaces can be contaminated with the virus if liquid bodily fluid droplets have evaporated entirely, and if subsequent touching of this surface, and then touching the eyes, mouth, nose, etc., can result in human infection. Some early evidence indicates the virus may remain viable on surfaces for a week or more, consistent with characteristics observed in SARS and MERS viruses, though data specific to COVID-19 is limited at this time. Live virus on surfaces with active bodily fluids, however, are likely to remain infectious so long as the fluids remain, though this too is not 100% confirmed at this time.
The rate of disease spread from person-to-person is defined by what is known as a basic reproduction number or R0 – that is, the average number of people likely to be infected by a single infected person. Estimates for COVID-19 fall between approximately 2 and 3. In terms of comparison to some other health epidemics:
- Measles, which is airborne, is the most infectious, with an R0 of between 12 and 18.
- Smallpox, which has the same airborne droplet method of infection that COVID-19 has, is around 2 times as infectious, at an R0 of 5 to 7.
- SARS and the 1918 Influenza pandemic strain of the flu have a roughly comparable rate as compared to COVID-19, and infect via the same route, for an R0 of between 2 and 5, with SARS being on the higher end and the flu on the lower end of that range.
Symptoms and Complications
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are respiratory in nature, as with in SARS and MERS. Specifically, the most common symptoms are:
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
Other symptoms which have been reported in some individuals with confirmed infections, at varying rates and intensities, include many of those consistent with the common cold or another respiratory illness, such as:
- Sore muscles
- Runny or stuffed nose
- Sore throat
Severe cases, complications, and issues that may result in those who have pre-existing health conditions, depressed immune systems, or existing respiratory ailments can include:
- Kidney failure
The rate of severe cases within China has been recorded as approximately 15% of the total number of cases. The fatality rate, or number of deaths as a function of the total number of cases confirmed, is around 2.2%. Exact estimates of the total case fatality rate run as low as 0.1% to as high as 15%, since it is difficult to extrapolate solely based on the data so far.
For comparison purposes, the 2018-2019 flu season mortality rate in the US was estimated at 0.1%, whereas the 1918 Influenza pandemic fatality rate was estimated at 20.0% globally. Prior to smallpox being eradicated via vaccination, the mortality rate was around 30.0% globally.
Testing for COVID-19
At this time, there are no commercially available or off-the-shelf tests that can be done for COVID-19, either in people or on surfaces. The
only way for cases to be confirmed (in the US) is via laboratory testing overseen by state health departments and coordinated through the CDC. This involves taking upper respiratory and lower respiratory secretion swabs, along with 1 vial (approximately 10 mL) of blood, and manual laboratory testing and microscopy to look for the presence of the virus.
Negative test results with no symptoms present does not necessarily mean COVID-19 is not the cause. However, negative test results with symptoms present mean that COVID-19 is likely not the cause. Exact rates of false negatives or false positives have not yet been established given the small sample size thus far.
How to Protect Yourself from the Coronavirus
There are many pieces of good advice to help protect yourself and your family from the coronavirus. Broadly, these include lifestyle limitations, good hygiene habits, exposure and infection control, and home or office surface decontamination. Note that for our purposes, we’re talking about the general public here – healthcare workers or those who have direct exposure to a confirmed patient should heed the CDC and other healthcare guidelines on proper protection.
In no particular order, advice and tips on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 include:
- Avoid non-essential travel to China until otherwise advised by the US Department of State and/or CDC.
- Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick – those confirmed to have COVID-19, have recently travelled back from the Wuhan, China area, or who are exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory illness.
- Paper or similar face masks are not effective for uninfected people. They ARE recommended for people who have become infected, to help control droplet spray from coughs or sneezing.
- If you develop symptoms of a respiratory illness, monitor for fever and severity, and contact your healthcare professional from home. Do not go to a hospital or doctor’s office first – instead contact them, as there may be special protocols to observe to help limit the spread of the infection.
- If you are sick with any kind of respiratory illness, stay home and isolate yourself to limit the risk of spread to others, including your family.
- If you have to sneeze or cough, and aren’t wearing or using a face mask, then do so into your elbow or, better yet, a tissue or two held firmly over your face, which you can then dispose of in the trash.
- Since it is not fully understood if, and for how long, COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, it is recommended that any surfaces touched by an infected person, potentially infected person, or within range of their coughs or sneezes (roughly a 6 foot radius from the individual) should be frequently decontaminated. Using wipes or a cleaning solution of 60% alcohol, or 0.1% bleach, has been shown to kill virus particles within 1 minute.
- Don’t put your fingers in your nose, mouth, ears, eyes, or near any other mucous membranes of your body without first washing them.
- Wash hands often with soap using proper technique – at least 20 seconds, using soap and water.
- Hand sanitizer is likely an effective way to reduce or eliminate virus particles on the hands in between washing or when washing is not a possibility.
- Keep yourself healthy and your immune system in good shape. This means regular exercise, a healthy diet with a good mix of vitamins and minerals, and a multi-vitamin supplement if needed.
- It’s also not too late to get a flu shot for this season if you haven’t already.
- Get any existing health conditions treated. Since most severe cases of infection have occurred in individuals who have other health problems, properly managing any existing health problems you may have will reduce the likelihood of complications or severe consequences should you become infected.
While there’s nothing directly that we can do for you at FunGuy Inspections with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak, we hope this guide has helped you better understand the current scope of the outbreak. It’s definitely something to keep in mind, and to take steps to prevent, but should not be a cause for serious anxiety or concern at this time among the general population in the US. Taking some precautions to avoid contracting the illness, especially via limiting travel and exposure to sick people, regular hand washing, and home sanitizing, are really the best way for all of us to help stop the spread of COVID-19.