What You Need To Know About Novel Coronavirus

A notice earlier this month greets passengers arriving in Narita, Japan from Wuhan, China (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

A potentially deadly new virus has been making a lot of people sick, mostly in China. It's called novel ("novel" as in "new") coronavirus 2019-nCoV. The outbreak began in Wuhan City, China.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. In China, more than 7,700 cases were confirmed as of that date, and 170 people had died. There were 82 other cases in 18 countries, including the United Statesat least two in Southern California.

Almost all of the confirmed cases involved people who had traveled in Wuhan.

Also on Jan. 30, the Centers for Disease Control announced the first known case of human-to-human transmission in the United States. The case involved a person in Illinois who had not traveled to Wuhan but shared a household with someone who was infected.


See the latest U.S. case numbers from the CDC >>


Here's what you need to know:

WHAT IS NOVEL CORONAVIRUS 2019-nCoV?

This photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a microscopic view of a coronavirus. (CDC/Getty Images)

Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV is in the family of coronavirus pathogens; they usually cause short-lived illnesses.

"Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms include fever, runny nose, headache and cough — basically, the common cold.

Coronaviruses get their name because of how they look, which is spiny around the edges, like a crown.

But some coronaviruses are scarier than others. Scientists are still trying to figure out how dangerous novel coronavirus is.

While it has killed a number of people in China, "other patients have had milder illness and been discharged," the CDC said, noting that its symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

IS IT LIKE SARS OR MERS?

A 2003 handout image shows the Coronavirus isolate tied to (SARS) (CDC/Getty Images)

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are two members of the coronavirus family that tend to make people sicker.

"About three or four out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died," according to the CDC. And SARS was responsible for a global outbreak in 2002-2003 that killed 774 people.

"The novel coronavirus is more genetically-related to SARS than MERS," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

But scientists don't know yet if novel coronavirus will act the same way as SARS or MERS; they're using information from both pathogens to guide their research.

HOW IT SPREADS

Coronaviruses generally jump from person to person on the droplets from coughs and sneezes.

They can also spread through touching or shaking hands with an infected person, or touching an object with the virus on it and touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

The CDC's best guess is that the incubation period for novel coronavirus — that's the time from exposure to when symptoms first start showing up — is somewhere between two and 14 days.

Health officials are stressing the importance of good hand hygiene. The L.A. County Department of Public Health has guidelines for travelers and health care workers here.

A CDC map shows countries with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus as of Jan. 27. (Courtesy of the CDC)

IS THERE A VACCINE?

No. Not yet anyway.

DID NOVEL CORONAVIRUS COME FROM... A BAT?

Dr. Messonnier said the novel coronavirus "does look like it may be somewhat similar to a bat coronavirus." But she said researchers will need to conduct more genetic sequencing before she can be confident of how the virus started.

DO I NEED TO BE WORRIED IF I LIVE IN THE LA AREA?

Passengers arriving at LAX wear protective masks to protect against novel coronavirus. (Mark Raltson/AFP via Getty Images)

The CDC, local public health officials and health care providers want us to know that they're on the case.

"While there are many unknowns, the CDC believes that the immediate risk to the American public continues to be low at this time," Dr. Messonnier said. "But the situation continues to evolve rapidly."

The main message from national and local health officials? Don't panic.

Everyone should go about living their regular lives, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

DO MASKS HELP?

A man reaches for a mask at a Home Depot store in L.A. on January 22. By the following week, masks were hard to come by in area stores. (Frederic J. Brown /AFP via Getty Images)

They might. But they're not a for sure way of protecting yourself. The problem is that most surgical masks are loose-fitting and those pesky respiratory droplets can slide through the gaps. Still, some studies have shown that masks and respirators can reduce the risk of infection.

The N95 surgical mask is probably the most effective — if you can find one.

CAN THE BUG SURVIVE ON PACKAGES FROM CHINA?

The CDC said these coronaviruses have what's called "poor survivability" on surfaces. The agency said there's a "very, very, very low, if any" risk of products or packages helping to spread the infection.

HOW LOCAL HOSPITALS ARE RESPONDING

The CDC is telling health care workers across the country to pay special attention to patients with fever who were recently in Wuhan.

"Our staff has been alerted to look particularly for this region of China as an area of high alert," said Christina Marcos, an Infection Preventionist at Monterey Park Hospital, which serves an area with a large Chinese community.

If they do come across someone who's at high-risk for novel coronavirus, they contact the CDC, which doesn't recommend local health care workers collect DNA samples before consulting the federal agency.

A handout from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

THE TEST

Once the CDC has a sample, it takes about four to six hours to test for novel coronavirus. There's an additional delay because it can take a day or more for samples to be shipped.

So the CDC is working hard to put together kits it can send to hospitals in affected states so they can do the testing on site.

The kits will utilize a technique called a real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. It "can diagnose this new coronavirus" in samples from clinical specimens, Messonnier said.

The CDC hopes to get the test out the door in the next couple of weeks.

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