On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Cases have spiked around the world in the last two weeks outside of China, where the novel coronavirus originated. As of publication, WHO has documented 125,288 confirmed cases of the disease globally. Spread of the disease has had serious impacts in the hardest-hit countries like Iran and Italy.
As in any situation, knowledge is power. In the interest of empowering people to respond to this pandemic. Teen Vogue has collected information from medical and public health authorities to explain some fundamental facts about corona virus, COVID-19, and how the duo of virus and disease is spreading.
What are coronaviruses and how is this one different?
According to WHO, corona viruses ( CoV in medical jargon) are a family of viruses that includes other notable examples like the virus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). They’re naming for the Spanish word for “crown” because of the crown-like spikes all over their surface. While it has become common parlance to call the current outbreaks as caused by “corona virus“.
Technically speaking, like using the term “dog” to describe a pit bull; just as there are other forms of dogs than pit bulls, there are other forms of corona virus than the one currently causing crises.
What makes this corona virus different is that it’s what medical experts call novel. As per WHO, this means this strain of virus never get identified in humans before, meaning there is no existing knowledge on how to control this specific strain’s spread.
Efforts to find a broader corona virus vaccine have already been underway for years. The novel corona virus outbreak has prompted a serious push for vaccine research as medical experts rush to understand how it spreads and how to stop it.
What is COVID-19?
As per the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 (an abbreviation of Corona virus disease 2019) is the name for the illness causes by the novel corona virus. In the same way that HIV is a virus and AIDs is the disease it causes, the novel corona virus is a virus and COVID-19 is the disease it causes.
It’s symptoms will start to appear within 14 days of infection. These symptoms include a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Severe complications can include pneumonia, organ failure, and death. Currently, WHO reports that roughly one in five people who contract the virus need hospitalization.
WHO data also indicates that, as of publication, 4,614 people have died of COVID-19. With 125,288 confirmed cases, that puts the death rate at around 3.3%. Despite that, the Associated Press reported on March 11 more than half of COVID-19 cases result in a recovery. For example, in China, where the bulk of global cases have been confirmed, more than 60,000 people had recovered out of more than 80,000 cases.
The intensive care that some patients require is its own risk factor for local public health systems. In northern Italy, an outbreak of more than 10,000 cases has stretched hospitals to the breaking point.
The Atlantic extensively covered the difficult choices facing doctors in the region, where a lack of staff and supplies has apparently exacerbated the death toll. Vice News has also reported that in Lombard, the Italian city hit hardest, 12% of the infected are health-care workers.
According to the CDC, the current understanding is that the novel corona virus in question is spread by close physical contact and respiratory droplets. Spit, snot, or other fluids that might be released by coughing or sneezing — from someone with COVID-19.
While the current understanding is that the virus is not communicable through the air. WHO reports that the respiratory fluids it lives in can infect people by remaining on a surface where they land and then come up through physical contact.
The CDC also believes that it is easiest to spread the virus when a person is especially sick with COVID-19. Though there is evidence that it can be spread even when someone is displaying no symptoms.
Significantly, the CDC report shows that there is “community spread,” a public health term that means people with the infection of the virus cannot trace how they get infect.
The most recent available CDC data at time of publication indicates that, of 1,215 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. 125 are travel-related, 102 came from close contact with someone infected, and 988 are still under investigation.
What are strategies for preventing its spread?
The medical wisdom to prevent spread right now is still fairly simple. The CDC recommends regular hand-washing using proper methods (20 seconds with soap and water), using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
If soap and water are not available, and avoiding touching your face (especially your eyes, ears, and mouth) with unwashed hands. You should also wash your hands before you do anything like eat or apply makeup to your face.
In China, where the first major outbreak took place in Wuhan (a city in Hubei province). Recent official figures appear to indicate that the government has been able to control the virus.
As per The New York Times, Chinese officials say this can be accomplished through a lock-down of 60 million people in Hubei, strict quarantines, and travel restrictions.
In today’s time, the true test of the success of these measures will be when these harsh policies will lift and life returns to normal.
Should I be freaking out?
The short answer for most people is, no. Panic is rarely a helpful response, and managing anxiety which the news covers of corona virus can be beneficial.
Based on what we know right now, most people — especially young people in good health — will recover from a case of COVID-19 even if it continues to spread in the United States.
If you are at higher risk because you’re older or have health issues, take preventative measures but don’t succumb to overwhelming anxiety, as anxiety itself can have physical symptoms. Self-care in a pandemic means taking steps to prevent infection and spread, but also maintaining your mental health.