What is the coronavirus?

Quiz by: rmd

What is the coronavirus?
This is an outbreak of disease that started in Wuhan, one of the central Chinese cities. It's caused by a novel coronavirus. That means it's brand-new, so new that actually it doesn't have a name yet.

What are the symptoms?
It's from a family called the coronaviruses. The symptoms of this illness are pretty mundane on the face of it. It's a dry cough, fever and then breathing problems. It seems quite mild in lots of people and probably those people don't end up in hospital at all. We only know about the more severe cases which is where people have gone on to develop viral pneumonia and those people obviously end up in hospital and all the deaths have been amongst those people.

Where have cases been confirmed so far?
This brand new coronavirus came from animals and it's believed that the source was actually a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sells wild animals. So far, as far as we know, all the cases have come out of Wuhan. So, some of these people are in places like Thailand and Japan, but they haven't picked it up there. They actually got it in Wuhan and then they traveled in China.

Should I be panicking about this outbreak?
In China, where the most cases are, it's older people who are ending up in hospital with this. They're usually over 40 and the very youngest person diagnosed is about 13 or 14 years old. So, it doesn't appear to be affecting small children and those who have died tend actually to have underlying conditions as they say. They, they're frail, they may have heart disease or cancer already and so they're vulnerable. Basically their immune systems are not very robust and they're going to find it very hard to fight off a virus.

How is this virus transmitted?
We've only just discovered that the new coronavirus is actually transmitted from one person to another. It was hoped at first actually that it just came from animals as all coronaviruses do, but now it looks as though it is actually passed from one human being to another. So we've got people-to-people transmission because the markets been closed for some time and there are cases in people who've never been near it.

What treatment is available?
So there actually isn't any treatment at the moment at all. Because this is a virus, antibiotics won't work. That.. They only work against bacteria, not viruses. So really you want an antiviral treatment, but none of the flu drugs that we've got -- and we have got a couple of those -- will work on this. Coronavirus is different from a flu virus, so there actually isn't any treatment at the moment at all.

How serious is this outbreak compared to others in the past?
This one is scary because it is a brand new virus, so we don't know how it's going to behave. But I have to say, we perhaps ought to put it in the context of some of the other things. I went to Sierra Leone to cover the West Africa outbreak of Ebola and that was killing more than half of all those people who were infected. SARS, which was a novel coronavirus just like this one back in 2002, did end up causing a global panic and that was largely because nobody had ever seen it before, but also the death rate was at around 10%. Well, here, so far, we're talking about a death rate of 2% which is a lot less and it does look as if many of those people actually have had underlying health problems which would make it more likely that they would die. They could equally have died of flu. So you have to put it into that context I think.
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