The latest information concerning coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of 50-plus distinct viruses which are found worldwide and infect both mammals and birds. Four coronaviruses have been circulating amongst humans for years and are believed to cause 20-40% of common cold infections per year. Two other coronaviruses have caused much more serious human illness since 2002: SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

Origin of COVID-19

In December 2019, a cluster of human respiratory illnesses in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, prompted a public health investigation which identified a new coronavirus. The virus was initially named 2019-nCoV and subsequently renamed SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 has been named COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease 2019). You may also hear it referred to as “novel coronavirus.”

Since December, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased dramatically with spread around the world. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Infectious symptoms range from a short respiratory illness with coughing, fever and shortness of breath to severe inflammation of the lungs with fluid infiltration, sepsis and ultimately respiratory and cardiac arrest. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.

Severe cases have primarily been noted in patients over 65 years of age who also have significant underlying chronic illnesses (diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, liver disease, etc.).

Call your doctor if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 and you develop symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Treatment

There is no vaccine nor any known antiviral treatment for COVID-19, so treatment is primarily supportive care. Mild cases may be treated at home, but severe illness requires hospitalization. Please see these guidelines from University Health Partners on the common symptoms of viral respiratory diseases and how to respond to them.