The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 appears to be fairly easily spread. But the good news is that it's not among the most transmissible diseases out there.
The new coronavirus spreads mostly through person-to-person contact within about a 6-foot (1.8 meters) radius, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus, spread viral particles through coughing and sneezing. The particles can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby.
It might also be possible to catch SARS-CoV-2 by touching a surface where the virus has recently landed and then touching one's mouth, nose or eyes, but CDC officials believe this method of transmission is less common. Some coronaviruses can live on surfaces for days, but not much is known about the new coronavirus' ability to survive on surfaces. Fortunately, ethanol, hydrogen-peroxide or bleach-based cleaners are effective at killing those coronaviruses that do survive on surfaces.
Unlike some extremely contagious pathogens, the virus is not thought to spread via smaller droplets that can remain airborne for long periods of time. Measles, for example, can live in the air for hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is not currently believed to be the case for SARS-CoV-2.
There is limited evidence that the new coronavirus can spread through feces as well. A small study of the stool samples of those diagnosed with COVID-19 found that viral particles in those stools looked viable under a microscope. "This means that stool samples may contaminate hands, food, water, etc.," the China CDC wrote in the report. For instance, if a person didn't wash their hands after touching a surface contaminated with infected stool residue, there's a chance they could become infected if they touch their eyes, nose or mouth with their hands, Live Science previously reported.
To avoid catching the new coronavirus, health officials recommend avoiding close contact with people who are sick. Face masks are not effective protection for people who are well, but people who are already ill can wear them to reduce the likelihood that they'll cough or sneeze droplets on loved ones. A face mask is not a substitute for staying home when you're sick, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Live Science.
The CDC also recommends avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Frequent hand-washing — 20 seconds, with soap and water — and 60%-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizers can kill the virus.
The novel coronavirus, now called SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019. Since then, it has spread to every continent except Antarctica. The death rate appears to be higher than that of the seasonal flu, but it also varies by location as well as a person's age, underlying health conditions, among other factors. For instance, in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, the death rate reached 2.9%, whereas it was just 0.4% in other provinces in China, according to a study published Feb. 18 in the China CDC Weekly.
Scientists aren't certain where the virus originated, though they know that coronaviruses (which also include SARS and MERS) are passed between animals and humans. Research comparing the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 with a viral database suggests it originated in bats. Since no bats were sold at the seafood market in Wuhan at the disease’s epicenter, researchers suggest an intermediate animal, possibly the pangolin (an endangered mammal) is responsible for the transmission to humans. There are currently no treatments for the disease, but labs are working on various types of treatments, including a vaccine.
Originally published on Live Science.
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