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Originally Answered: What is Coronavirus and how does it spread?
What is Coronavirus and how does it spread?
The first cases were identified at the tail end of 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei province, when hospitals started seeing patients with severe pneumonia. Like the viruses that cause MERS and SARS, the new coronavirus appears to have originated in bats, but it’s not clear how the virus jumped from bats to humans or where the first infections occurred. Often, pathogens journey through an intermediary “animal reservoir”—bats infect the animals, and humans come into contact with some product from that animal. That could be milk or undercooked meat, or even mucus, urine, or feces. For example, MERS moved to humans through camels, and SARS came through civet cats sold at a live animal market in Guangzhou, China.
Scientists don’t know why some coronaviruses have made that jump but others haven’t. It may be that the viruses haven’t made it to animals that humans interact with, or that the viruses don’t have the right spike proteins so they can’t attach to our cells. It’s also possible that these jumps happen more often than anyone realizes, but they don’t cause serious reactions, so no one notices.
Researchers are still trying to understand how SARS-CoV-2 spreads between humans. The virus has a two- to 14-day incubation period, so people could be infectious for quite a while before symptoms like fever, cough, or shortness of breath emerge.
Right now, CDC officials say Americans shouldn’t panic. The risk of getting Covid-19 is pretty low in this country, so you don’t need to run out and buy a face mask this instant—you really shouldn’t, actually, because that depletes supplies for the health professionals who need them. The agency recommends some more basic precautions: Avoid travel to China, wash your hands, and cover your mouth when you cough. The virus also can’t survive for long out in the open, so you can’t catch it from, say, opening a package sent from China.
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