Not since severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) has the world literally held its breath in fear of a worldwide pandemic. A growing number of people have died from the 2019-nCoV, also called the Chinese or Wuhan coronavirus, or Chinese pneumonia, with many more confirmed cases in and outside of China since its discovery in December.
China temporarily restricted travel to and from Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province, effectively quarantining the city and its 11 million inhabitants. Reports of airline personnel and airport security wearing full hazmat suits inspired an entirely different type of viral outbreak as news coverage and social media shared sensational stories from citizens afraid they or their relatives had been exposed or fallen ill from the virus.
Disruptions to travel and trade “spooked” global markets according to news outlet CNBC, and pandemic experts around the world have expressed concern that the outbreak may be more widespread than the latest official reports.
That’s the nature of previously-unknown, highly-contagious diseases, so it’s reasonable to ask “What is the coronavirus?”
People are uncomfortable when they don’t know the facts. How can one become infected? What can we do to clean up coronavirus contamination and keep ourselves and loved ones from catching this unsettling “Chinese pneumonia”? Here are answers to the most-asked questions about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak:
What is coronavirus, and how did the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak start?
Coronavirus is a type of infectious disease found in livestock, pets, wildlife, and—less frequently—humans. Most coronaviruses don’t cross over from animal to human, but the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) SARS and the Wuhan strain are among seven exceptions according to the CDC.
Crowded markets full of unvetted live exotic and domestic animals come into close contact with humans, increasing the risk that a virus mutation finds an acceptable host within a distantly-related species.
Virologists traced SARS’ origin to bats, then to a captive Asian palm civet, a small animal resembling a cross between a raccoon and a housecat. There were Asian palm civets for sale at the market where health officials believe the Wuhan coronavirus originated, but it’s unknown if contact with that particular animal touched off the current outbreak.
Some virologists suspect the Chinese “ground zero” patients contracted the Wuhan coronavirus by eating cooked cobra at the market.
What are the known Wuhan coronavirus symptoms?
This new virus presents symptoms similar to the common cold or flu but may become as severe as pneumonia:
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
Unless a person experiencing these symptoms has recently traveled to the Wuhan region or have been in close contact with someone who has, U.S. health officials say it’s unlikely they’ve contracted 2019-nCoV.
How does the Wuhan coronavirus spread?
The 2019-nCoV coronavirus is easily transmitted from person to person due to its ability to live outside the human body for hours or possibly days. Coronaviruses spread through airborne body fluids released by coughing and sneezing, by contact with contaminated skin and mucous membranes, and by touching contaminated surfaces.
It is unknown how long the 2019-nCoV can survive outside their hosts but similar coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS are resilient. Here are the facts as presented by the Chest Foundation:
Those infected by SARS typically didn’t show symptoms for two to 10 days after infection
- People are more likely to infect others once they’ve developed symptoms.
- Infected SARS patients can remain contagious for 21 days after symptoms appear, and should remain isolated for 10 days after the symptoms have subsided.
- The SARS virus is viable outside the body for up to six days.
Is the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a pandemic?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as an outbreak of a little-known or previously-unknown disease that disproportionately affects a very large geographic area.
Due to the newness of the disease and the fact that pandemic-causing pathogens typically originate in animals, there are no vaccines to inoculate humans, and lack of immunity puts entire populations at risk. An epidemic, on the other hand, relates to time: A high number of cases within a community in a short period.
Virologists currently disagree whether or not the Wuhan coronavirus will become a global pandemic. We still don’t know how many people traveled outside Wuhan while infected with the coronavirus.
There are confirmed reports in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand, and a 30-year-old U.S. citizen who returned to Everett, Washinton from Wuhan on January 15 may have infected hundreds while in transit and stateside, with many more appearing daily.
Because he was aware of the outbreak, he immediately sought medical help as soon as he suspected he was infected and is now reportedly recovering with no serious complications. However, health officials suspect that this coronavirus, like most others, is most dangerous to the elderly, the very young, and those already in poor health.
How to reduce the risk of exposure to 2019-nCoV coronavirus
As there is no vaccine against 2019-nCoV, health officials recommend taking the same precautions used to avoid the common cold and flu: Avoid crowded, enclosed spaces, practice frequent and thorough hand washing, and keep work and household surfaces clean.
Cheap surgical masks, like those currently worn but many Wuhan citizens, are all but useless against airborne viruses, and professional protective clothing is required when coming into contact with patients and populations suffering from highly-contagious diseases.
Healthy people are presumably less likely to experience the most severe symptoms, so diet, rest, and exercise may help individuals be more resilient to coronavirus and other highly-contagious diseases. Stress, exhaustion, and lack of sleep negatively affect the human immune system.
Further precautions include monitoring the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory webpage and, of course, avoiding the Wuhan region and cities where multiple people have been diagnosed with 2019-nCoV.
How to treat a location contaminated by the Wuhan coronavirus
Due to known coronaviruses’ long viability period outside their living hosts, areas suspected to be contaminated 2019-nCoV require thorough sanitation to prevent contagion.
Regular household cleaners are suitable for decontaminating affected areas, but it’s best to hire a professional disease cleaning company such as Bio Recovery that quickly responds to outbreaks at commercial, industrial, institutional, and private locations nationwide.
These companies are trained to disinfect surfaces, textiles, structural materials, ventilation systems, and vehicles according to CDC and EPA recommendations. Incomplete attempts are ineffective and may help breed disinfectant-resistant virus strains.
Insurance typically covers the cost of biohazard cleanup, and hiring professionals saves costs incurred from lost productivity, work absences, closures, and quarantines.
2019-nCoV is a reminder to be prepared
As of this article’s publication date, global health officials aren’t predicting a deadly pandemic comparable to the Spanish flu, or a survival rate as dangerous as that experienced in the SARS outbreak. Still, governments and private citizens are unprepared to respond to sudden outbreaks and mutations of known and emerging contagious diseases.
Private citizens, employers, medical facilities, and businesses are wise to develop protocols and policies in case of a virulent outbreak or pandemic. In the face of undiscovered pathogens, the two best policies are insisting symptomatic personnel stay home, and selecting a reputable coronavirus cleaning company well in advance of the emergency.
Let Bio Recovery be part of your family or organization’s emergency response plan. Contact us to find out how we can help.