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2019-nCoV, extremely dangerous type of coronavirus that spreads fast

Abraham Eisenstein, M.D. |
Wuhan coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV is a new type of a virus, extremely dangerous and with an ability to spread fast.

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nCoV means Novel Coronavirus which means that it is new and its behavior is not yet totally understood. What we know is that it is a coronavirus.

There are almost 40 coronaviruses we are familiar with and they all share similar characteristics. This is a family of viruses we can find in animals, from cattle to domestic animals like cats, and wild species like bats. Now, they usually stay among animal population but when the jump occurs, consequences are deadly.

And that's exactly what happened to 2019-nCoV: an animal to person spread happened, and when the Wuhan coronavirus found its home in humans, a mutation occurred. The virus started to spread between people via air, which is scary by itself, but then it became worse: people without symptoms may spread the virus and that's an ideal situation for any virus.

A silent spread is what every virus dreams of. Add to that 14 days period of incubation during which an infected person comes into a contact with other people and you have a very fast spread of a very nasty virus.

Common human coronaviruses, that's something we all catch sooner or later, and several times in our lives. A common cold is a typical example of our close encounter with that type of viruses.

Usually, they cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Symptoms are exactly what you could thought they are: cough, cough, runny nose, headache, fever.

Human coronaviruses can spread lower to a lower-respiratory tract and cause well known bronchitis and pneumonia.

So, what's so scared about Wuhan coronavirus?

First, it's new. We know that it is more than 85 percent identical with a SARS virus but it's just similar, it in fact belongs to another lineage of the sarbecovirus subgenus of the Coronaviridae family.

That means two problems. First, since it's new, we don't know exactly how to fight against it. Second, it's similarity to SARS is not good: SARS causes very serious symptoms and fatality rate is high.

Patients with confirmed 2019-nCoV infection reported mild to severe symptoms: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Those symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. Then comes the pneumonia which is severe and can lead to death.

Second, another bad news is that although we know that 2019-nCoV spreads person to person but we don't know exactly how, the underlining mechanism is still not clearly known. That's the reason Wuhan coronavirus spreads so easily and fast, much faster than other known viruses.

So, what to do? There is currently no vaccine against 2019-nCoV. The best way, as with other viruses, is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

The best way is to wear a mask if you are in an infected region. Well, there are some problems here too.

The first type of masks is a surgical masks you can buy anywhere. But, they don't prevent a person from inhaling smaller airborne particles and they are not officially recognized as a protection. And they are not airtight.

Another type, N95 respirators, is something healthcare professionals use. They are tight fitting and filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. You can buy them too but you must be trained to fit them correctly. Thus, masks won't give you a 100% protection, they will just stop some number of particles to get in your system. In other words, better something than nothing.

If you are in a contaminated area, or think you are, you should:

- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your head with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue
- Clean frequently touched surfaces with disinfect

If you think you were exposed to 2019-nCoV you should contact your doctor right away.

Since there is no specific treatment for Wuhan coronavirus infection patients receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. In severe cases, treatment includes care to support vital organ functions.

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