What Is The Coronavirus, What Are Its Symptoms, & Is There A Cure?

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A newly discovered virus that originated in the city of Wuhan, China, has been dominating headlines for the past week, but what is the coronavirus and should you be worried about it?

At time of writing (Jan. 24), there hasn’t been a confirmed case of coronavirus in the UK, but 14 people have been tested. Five have tested negative and nine are waiting for results.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said his team "will not be surprised" if people return from China with the infection.

"I think it's highly likely that we will have cases in the UK and, of course, every so often we do get new infections coming from the animal kingdom such as this one," Cosford said. "These are early days yet with this virus. The vast majority of people who are infected do seem to be getting better. The people who have done particularly badly, and sadly died, they seem to be people who have other conditions that might make them more likely to suffer badly with this virus."

What Is The Coronavirus?

First discovered in the 1960s, coronaviruses can exist in both humans and animals, and seven human strains have been discovered so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus," the CDC write on their website. This is what has happened with the Wuhan strain (otherwise known as 2019-nCoV) and with the 2003 SARS outbreak. SARS, which is severe acute respiratory syndrome, resulted in 774 deaths, according to the NHS. This strain was initially found in small mammals, but it mutated, resulting in humans contracting it.

Described as a “highly contagious and potentially life-threatening form of pneumonia” by the NHS, SARS and its 2003 outbreak has been cited in many articles now discussing 2019-nCoV. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the Wuhan virus appears to be milder than SARS, though it has sickened some people severely and there have been deaths.”

How Is Coronavirus Spreading?

As the CDC writes, it was believed to have originated in a large Wuhan food market, “suggesting an animal-to-person spread.” However, at this stage, it is suggested that “a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting person-to-person spread is occurring,” the CDC states.

With Lunar New Year beginning this Saturday (Jan. 25), millions of families will be travelling to and from China to celebrate with their families. As the Guardian notes, there are fears that the virus “may spread more widely” during this time.

There is no need to panic, however. Per the Guardian, the spread of the virus was “not an unexpected development,” and countries like the UK are well prepared for it.

The concern at the moment is “the range of severity of symptoms,” as the Guardian notes, because “some people appear to suffer only mild illness while others are becoming severely ill.”

What Are The Symptoms Of Coronavirus?

According to CDC, symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Coronaviruses can cause other illnesses like the common cold and flu. For people with weakened immune systems, older adults, young children, and those with cardiopulmonary disease, there is a chance it can be life threatening due to the increased chance of developing “lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis,” the CDC writes.

Currently, there is no cure or vaccine for coronavirus. As Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the Centre of Tropical Medicine and Global Health, told the Telegraph: “There are currently no antivirals for this, so care is just supportive, supporting the lungs and other organs until patients recover. There are other potential therapeutics out there but no effective antiviral.”

What To Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus

If you think you may have the virus, Dr Peter Holden advises staying at home to avoid it spreading. “If you have been to China, to Wuhan in particular, then stay at home and ring up,” he told Sky News (via the Evening Standard). “Please don’t come to the surgery or A&E. Help will be organised to take you somewhere we can examine you in safety, without contaminating all the rest of the healthcare assets.” Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Professor Paul Cosford advised calling the NHS 111 helpline.