The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and the number of cases continues to rise worldwide. These basic steps can help you reduce your risk of getting sick or infecting others.
What is a coronavirus?
The coronavirus family causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), according to the WHO.
They circulate in animals and some can be transmitted between animals and humans. Several coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
The new coronavirus, the seventh known to affect humans, has been named COVID-19.
What are the symptoms?
Common signs of infection include fever, coughing and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, multiple organ failure and death.
The incubation period of COVID-19 is thought to be between one and 14 days. It is contagious before symptoms appear, which is why so many people get infected.
Infected patients can be also asymptomatic, meaning they do not display any symptoms despite having the virus in their systems.
How many people are affected?
In mainland China, at least 80,000 have been infected, according to official figures. That means more infections have now been registered outside of China than inside.
Where did it come from?
China alerted the WHO to cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan on December 31.
COVID-19 is thought to have originated in a seafood market where wildlife was sold illegally.
On February 7, Chinese researchers said the virus could have spread from an infected animal to humans through illegally trafficked pangolins, prized in Asia for food and medicine.
Scientists have pointed to either bats or snakes as the possible source.
Should I worry? How can I protect myself?
The WHO declared the virus a global pandemic on March 11, and said it was “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak.
WHO recommends basic hygiene such as regularly washing hands with soap and water, and covering your mouth with your elbow when sneezing or coughing.
Maintain “social distancing” – keeping at least 1.8 metre (six feet) between yourself and others – particularly if they are coughing and sneezing, and avoid touching your face, eyes and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid unnecessary, unprotected contact with animals and be sure to thoroughly wash hands after contact.