Coronavirus Outbreak: 7 questions answered

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An outbreak of new coronavirus has sickened and killed thousands and is now classified as a pandemic. ABC7 News has answers to seven frequently asked questions.

What is the new coronavirus?
The 2019 novel, or new, coronavirus is a virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The first novel coronavirus case in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020.

What makes it new?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified." Coronaviruses include a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and 2012 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks. Coronaviruses can be transmitted between animals and people, as well as person to person.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu. Patients have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can appear as early as two days after exposure or can take up to two weeks to develop, which is why many people who may have coronavirus are quarantined for 14 days.

How is coronavirus treated?
There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus. Foster City based Gilead Sciences has provided an experimental drug called Remdesivir to treat infected patients in the U.S. and in China. America's first case, a man being treated in Seattle, had a good response. Patients in hospitals are being held in isolation rooms.

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How does coronavirus compare to influenza?
The number of seasonal flu deaths vastly outnumber deaths from coronavirus. The CDC estimates that 9.7 million people have gotten the flu this season, including an estimated 4,800 deaths and 87,000 hospitalizations. While the flu might seem like a relatively minor disease because it's so common, complications from the flu, which can include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups and heart problems, can be deadly. Symptoms of the flu and coronavirus are similar. Unlike coronavirus, there is a vaccine for the flu. Doctors say it's not too late to get a flu shot and it can help reduce the severity of symptoms.

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Are pets at risk from coronavirus?
Dr. Eran Bendavid, an infectious disease policy expert at Stanford Medicine, tells ABC7 News that the chance of transmission to house pets is exceptionally low given the low number of cases of coronavirus in the United States. But it doesn't hurt to take precautions. According to the CDC, "Do not handle pets or other animals while sick. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with 2019-nCoV, several types of coronaviruses can cause illness in animals and spread between animals and people. Until we know more, avoid contact with animals and wear a facemask if you must be around animals or care for a pet." According to the World Health Organization, "At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans."

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How do I protect myself from coronavirus?
The steps that will protect you from coronavirus will also protect you from influenza and many other common illnesses. Here are the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.

  • Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds

  • Use hand sanitizers when water isn't available

  • Use disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces

  • Stay home if you feel unwell

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands


Many people are wearing face masks as a protective measure. Health officials across the U.S. are not recommending that the general public wear a face mask to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

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