There are seven strains of coronavirus capable of infecting humans, four of which were discovered in the 1960s, presenting themselves as the common cold: 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. The other two strains, SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS]) and MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS]) emerged in 2003 and 2012, respectively. The most recently identified coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, widely regarded as COVID-19.1,2 According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals who are over the age of 65 and/or have an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung diseases, liver disease, chronic kidney disease, or obesity, and/or are immunocompromised are at a higher risk to suffer severe complications and death due to the virus.
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 can be present in the body for up to two weeks without showing symptoms. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, symptoms for COVID-19 include, but are not limited to, cough, fever, shortness of breath, muscle ache, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell. Though the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to pre-existing strains, this particular strain is new to humans, which is why it is referred to as “novel,” and this means our bodies don’t know how to fight it. COVID-19 seems to spread more rapidly than previous coronavirus strains and has a longer incubation period. And for high-risk individuals, COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory and kidney problems.3,4
The best way to prevent the virus from spreading is through handwashing and social distancing. The objective of social distancing is to reduce exposure to other people as much as possible, especially considering the long incubation period and how easily the virus can be transmitted—droplets from coughing, sneezing, and touching most surfaces contaminated with the virus. Exposure can be prevented through frequent hand-washing, staying at least six feet away from others when in public, communicating via phone or video chat (instead of face to face), avoiding public areas (including work), and leaving your home to only grab essentials from the grocery store and/or for medical emergencies.3,4
When at home, wash hands before and after handling food. Because COVID-19 can survive for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, aim to wash your hands after touching door knobs and handles, counter tops, and commonly used objects like remotes, laptops, and phones. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and always cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow (rather than into your hands or in the open). Be sure to thoroughly clean your home weekly.3,4
If you’re experiencing symptoms of the flu, stay home and contact your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms over the phone, especially if symptoms worsen. Avoid going to public places, and wear a mask if you absolutely must leave the house.4
1. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site. Coronavirus. Human Coronavirus types. Updated 15 Feb 2020.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/types.html. Accessed 5 Apr 2020.
2. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Site. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). About MERS. Updated 2 Aug 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/about/index.html. Accessed 5 Apr 2020.
3. Johns Hopkins University of Medicine site. Frequently asked questions. What is COVID-19? Updated 23 Apr 2020.
https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/covid-19-basics/faq. Accessed 5 Apr 2020.
4. Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Conditions and diseases. How can I protect myself (and others) from the new coronavirus and COVID-19? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/ conditions-and- diseases/coronavirus/ how-can-i-protect-myself-from-coronavirus. Accessed 5 Apr 2020.