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Coronavirus 101: How dangerous is it, what are the symptoms and other questions

All your main questions about coronavirus answered.

Updated Mar 22, 2020 06:17pm

Your key questions answered about coronavirus disease, or Covid-19.

Where did the virus come from?

The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another animal species.

There are also reports that the intermediate host could be pangolins, according to researchers at the South China Agricultural University.

WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan at the end of December. A week later, Chinese authorities confirmed they had identified a new virus.

How dangerous is it?

The new virus, identified by scientists as Covid-19, is a coronavirus, a family of viruses that include the common cold and more serious diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

A woman and a boy purchase face masks in Hong Kong on Feb 1. ─ AP
A woman and a boy purchase face masks in Hong Kong on Feb 1. ─ AP

Coronavirus infections have a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

It is unclear how deadly the new virus is. Although severe cases can cause pneumonia and death, there may be many cases of milder disease going undetected. Many of those who have died had pre-existing medical conditions or were elderly, those with weakened immune systems.

How is it transmitted?

The new coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person, although it is not clear how easily that happens.

Transmission is most likely through close contact with an infected person via particles in the air from coughing or sneezing, or by someone touching an infected person or object with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Doctors in China have also said that pregnant women infected with the new coronavirus may be able to pass it to their unborn children.

Are antibiotics effective?

No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

The new coronavirus is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalised for Covid-19, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

Are there any medicines to prevent or treat coronavirus?

Indians who arrived from Wuhan are transported in a bus to a quarantine facility, at the airport in New Delhi, India. ─ AP
Indians who arrived from Wuhan are transported in a bus to a quarantine facility, at the airport in New Delhi, India. ─ AP

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus.

However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimised supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.

While researchers are scrambling to come up with a treatment for the virus, some doctors are trying out a potent brew of anti-retroviral and flu drugs to treat those infected, but the science is inconclusive as to whether they are effective.

How can it be prevented?

WHO’s standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows, which include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:

Read more here.