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The Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered by an Emergency Physician

  • Category: COVID-19
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The Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered by an Emergency Physician

Joshua Strommen MD

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a virus that is given its name because corona, in Latin, means crown. The shape of the virus under the electron microscope looks similar to a crown, having a wreath-like appearance. Coronavirus is the second most common cause of the common cold next to the rhinovirus. It usually causes only an upper respiratory infection, where there is no involvement or infection within the lungs.

Where does it come from?

The coronavirus exists in multiple species, to include cattle, bats, camels, rats, mice, dogs, and cats. Humans are also natural reservoirs for the coronavirus, and we pass it to each other commonly, usually without any significant detriment. These viruses can also be transmitted from animals to humans due to their high mutation and replication rate.

What is the 2019-nCov?

This is the specific strain that is currently circulating and causing illness and concern. There are 6 other known strains of coronavirus that can infect humans. Two of those six incurred significant illnesses in 2003 and 2012, and they are the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronaviruses, respectively.

It is understood that the current strain causing a worldwide scare, originated from China, and most likely from a yet unidentified animal source. The animal source was the initial vector, but now it is believed that the virus is being transmitted from human to human.

What is so dangerous about this strain?

This virus has no known specific treatment. Treatment is only supportive in nature. There is no current vaccine for it. It can infect both the upper and lower respiratory tract. This means there is a likelihood of developing pneumonia, among other complications, that can lead to death.

As of February 5th, the worldwide number of confirmed cases is at 24,600 and there have been 494 deaths. There are only 11 confirmed cases in the United States, with no reported US deaths. This means there is about a 2% worldwide mortality rate. In comparison, this year in the US, there have been 19 million influenza cases reported to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and around 10,000 deaths, which is a much lower mortality rate. These numbers, however, are changing by the hour.

How is it spread and what are the symptoms?

Respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and saliva spread the virus. Per the CDC, it is unknown if the virus can be spread from just touching a surface that may contain the virus particles, then rubbing your nose, eyes, or mouth.

Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of Breath

What can you do?

If you have any of the above symptoms and have been in contact with someone recently traveling outside the US, please have a low threshold for getting seen by a doctor.

Most importantly, recommendations are for thorough hand washing and routine cleanliness when around people who are sick. Limit your exposure to those who are sick. If you are sick, limit your exposure to others. There is no need to wear a mask in public at this time.

Joshua Strommen

Joshua Strommen is an Emergency Medicine Physician at Premier ER & Urgent Care. He graduated from the University of Texas at Houston Medical School in 2010. Subsequently, he was in the US Army for 6 years, where he had the opportunity to serve as an Attending Physician and also an Assistant Program Director for the Emergency Medicine residency program at Carl R Darnall Army Medical Center in Ft. Hood, TX.