Few news stories this year have gotten as much coverage as the novel coronavirus outbreak in China.
According to public reports, more than 80,000 have been infected, over 2,000 have died, and patients have been reported in at least 27 different countries.
But what do we really know about the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as Covid-19?
While this may be the first time the public has heard the term, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals.
You may remember the outbreak of MERS and SARS a number of years ago – those are both coronaviruses as well.
Typically, these viruses only transmit within a species…
…but on rare occasion, they can infect people who then spread the virus amongst each other.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – or CDC – believes that is likely what happened in this case, though there are other (discredited) theories.
From a clinical perspective, much is still unknown about the virus. However, the virus’ incubation period – the time it takes from when a person contracts it to when they start showing symptoms – is believed to be between two and fourteen days.
It is highly contagious and there is no known vaccine to prevent it, which is why the CDC classifies it as high public health threat.
It is not, however, nearly as deadly as other viruses like Ebola.
At this time, the CDC also says that the general American public is unlikely to be exposed, making it a low immediate health risk to our nation.
If exposures do become more widespread, the vast majority of otherwise healthy people will recover with only mild to moderate illness.
Protective efforts should focus on the people most at risk, including the elderly and people with pre-existing illnesses.
This report, and other episodes, are available at KWBU.org. Business of Health Care is a production of KWBU and Baylor Scott & White Health.