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Coronavirus is spreading in the US. Here’s everything to know, from symptoms to how to protect yourself

After a fifth case has been identified in the Chicago area, officials say there’s no cause for panic, but recommend people take precautions.

This electron microscope image shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, pink.
AP

The deadly coronavirus that began as a handful of infections in central China has rapidly become a worldwide outbreak, shutting down entire cities, threatening the health of thousands and testing the strength of the global economy.

More than 97,800 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide across more than 60 countries, and more than 3,300 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As the rate of new cases in China begins to decline, hot zones are cropping up in Europe and the Middle East. In the U.S., the death toll is creeping upward as new cases are confirmed across the nation.

Weeks into the outbreak, there are still more questions than answers. Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19.

Coronavirus symptoms

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some people don’t have any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms resemble the flu and include fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some people also develop aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.

About 1 in 6 people becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing, according to the World Health Organization. If you experience fever, cough and shortness of breath, call your doctor.

How many coronavirus cases are in the US?

There are at least 215 confirmed cases in the U.S. across 17 states, according to Johns Hopkins. Officials warn that many more people are likely infected. At least eight people in the U.S. have recovered. Of the confirmed cases, some are travel-related, some have spread person-to-person, and some were repatriated to the U.S. from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Map of coronavirus cases in US

Cases have been confirmed in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, according to Johns Hopkins.

How many people have died in the US from the coronavirus?

Twelve people have died after contracting the coronavirus in the U.S.: 11 in Washington state and one in California. At least five of the victims were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle. At least one had previously been aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

How many cases of coronavirus are there worldwide?

Here’s a breakdown of worldwide numbers, as of Thursday:

  • More than 97,800 cases
  • More than 53,700 people have recovered
  • At least 3,347 people have died

Travel restrictions for US citizens

The CDC recommends avoiding all non-essential travel – a level three alert – to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. This does not include Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. Japan is at a level two alert (practice enhanced precautions), and Hong Kong is at a level one watch (practice usual precautions).

Many people have canceled trips abroad amid fears of contracting the virus. Some universities have canceled study abroad programs, and some companies have put a pause on international travel.

How to prepare for coronavirus

Take typical flu-season precautions: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your cough. Stay home when sick. Clean household objects and surfaces. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

And no, you don’t need a face mask unless you have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. Buying up masks takes away precious materials from the health workers who need them most.

Who is most at risk of becoming very sick or dying?

The general American public is at low risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Those at a higher risk of exposure to the virus include people who live in communities that are seeing sustained transmission, health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and close contacts of patients.

As with seasonal flu, people at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, according to the WHO.

In China, the median age of coronavirus patients is 51 years old, and the majority of cases (78%) were between 30 and 69 years, according to February study conducted by the WHO. The highest mortality rate was among people over 80 years of age.

Does coronavirus affect pregnancy?

It’s unclear how the coronavirus may affect pregnant women. In general, pregnant women may experience changes to their body that could make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, according to the CDC.

In the case of SARS and MERS, pregnant women were more at risk for severe illness, and some experienced miscarriage and stillbirth, according to the CDC.

There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from an infected mother to her fetus, and, in a limited number of recent cases of infants born to mothers with COVID-19, none of the infants have tested positive for the virus, the CDC said.

How does coronavirus affect children?

Coronavirus in children appears to be rare, with about 2% of cases reported among people under 19 years old, according to the WHO study in China. An even smaller proportion of this age group developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%), and just one person under 20 had died in China as of February.

Coronavirus vs. flu: How many people die from flu each year?

In the U.S., influenza has caused 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010, according to the CDC. So far this season, there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu. At least 125 of those deaths were in children.

Why is this being compared to the 1918 flu pandemic? What are the similarities and differences?

The Spanish flu, an H1N1 virus, emerged in the wake of WWI and spread across the globe between 1918 and 1919, infecting about a third of the world’s population. An estimated 50 million people died, with about 675,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Unlike COVID-19, the 1918 pandemic had a high mortality rate among young, healthy people aged 20 to 40. While the Spanish flu’s mortality rate was about 2.5%, the mortality rate of COVID-19 appears to be closer to 3.4%, based on reported cases.

Like COVID-19, the main protections against the 1918 pandemic included isolation, quarantine, personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, according to the CDC.

How did the coronavirus start?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, named for their crown-like spikes. In rare cases, coronaviruses in animals have infected people, who spread the virus to other people. That’s what happened with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS, two far deadlier coronaviruses.

COVID-19, originally called the “novel coronavirus,” was first detected in December 2019. The first infection was linked to a market in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people. It’s still unclear how transmission unfolded, but there are several theories.

Some researchers believe that someone bought contaminated meat at the market, ate it, got sick and infected others. Others say the virus originated in bats, spread to an intermediary animal, and then to humans. Some researchers say pangolins may have been that intermediary host.

How is coronavirus spread? How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces?

The virus is spreading rapidly from person to person, and scientists are still learning more about how it spreads. According to the CDC, the virus spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets, much like the common cold or flu.

There’s no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through food, according to the CDC. It is, however, possible that a person can get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own face. There is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks, according to the CDC.

Dozens of confirmed cases have cropped up aboard cruise ships in recent weeks. One ship, Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, was being held off the coast of San Francisco on Thursday amid fears that more than 3,500 passengers and crew may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Is there a vaccine? Can coronavirus be cured?

There are no drugs or vaccines for coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Doctors can only treat the symptoms the viruses cause.

Chinese scientists have decoded the COVID-19 DNA and made it public, and several pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and abroad are working to develop a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that a vaccine will be ready within 12 to 18 months.

How will it affect our economy? Will the stock market ever recover?

The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a growing toll on the U.S. economy. Virus fears have reduced travel and tourism. Manufacturers were expected to export less to Asia and Europe, and lower imports from those regions were expected to lead to shortages of parts and retail products in the U.S.

The stock market has fluctuated wildly. At the end of February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 3,500 points in a single week, and the Dow and S&P 500 had their worst performance in a week since October 2008.

In an emergency response, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates on March 3 – the Fed’s first rate cut between scheduled meetings since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008. The Fed said it would continue monitoring developments.

What is the Trump administration doing about the epidemic? What is Mike Pence’s role?

At the end of January, the Trump administration declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency in the U.S. and quarantined Americans who had recently been to certain parts of China – the first quarantine order issued by the federal government in more than 50 years.

President Donald Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a task force that is coordinating the government’s response to the outbreak. The White House also requested $2.5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the outbreak, but Trump later said he would be open to spending more.

The Democrat-controlled House and GOP-led Senate compromised on an $8.3 billion deal Wednesday to combat the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and help treat people who become ill. The funding package, if approved, would amount to one of the largest packages Congress will have passed to combat a global health crisis.

Who can actually test for coronavirus?

The CDC is shipping testing kits to state and local public health labs and qualified private labs across the country. The government was expected to issue 2,500 test kits, representing 1.5 million tests, by the end of the week, according to Pence. Any American can be tested for the coronavirus, subject to doctor’s orders, Pence said.

While the CDC initially developed and mailed flawed testing kits, the agency said it fixed the glitch.

Will US schools close?

While Chinese officials closed schools and businesses in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, to prevent spread, the response from schools and health officials in the U.S. has varied.

The CDC offered different guidance to schools and daycare centers depending on whether they have a locally identified case of COVID-19:

  • For institutions that don’t have a confirmed case, schools should review and update emergency plans, emphasize hand-washing, communicate with local health departments and review attendance policies.
  • In areas with COVID-19 cases, the CDC recommends schools talk with local health officials before canceling classes to determine how long schools should be closed.

As of Monday, some school districts in Washington were closed, while a few in northern Idaho, on the border of Washington, also shut down for cleaning.

Should I cancel my upcoming events?

Concerts, shows and conferences have been canceled and businesses, museums, resorts and theme parks have been closed across the globe to prevent the continued spread of the virus. In the U.S., individual state and local governments are assessing the risk of large gatherings.

Read more at usatoday.com.