The novel coronavirus: your questions, answered

SPOKANE, Wash. — As the death toll from the novel coronavirus climbs in China – where at least 130 people have been killed – more than 70 people across the U.S. are waiting to see if they will be added to the five confirmed cases here at home. The first of those cases was announced in Washington last week, which prompted a wave of concern from 4 News Now viewers.

Over the last week, 4 News Now has received countless calls and questions from you about your risk of contracting the virus, so we took your questions straight to a doctor.

“Coronaviruses are typically not dangerous,” said Dr. Dave Chen, chief medical officer for Multicare Inland Northwest. “Most of the time they’re quite harmless, but a coronavirus can become more aggressive.”

According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a family of viruses which commonly presents itself in animals and while it’s rare for those to spread to people, it’s happened before – with the SARs outbreak in 2002 and again in 2012 with the MERS outbreak. The coronavirus that’s making headlines now has been named 2019-nCoV.

“2019 is when it was first identified,” said Chen. “‘N’ is ‘novel,’ so it’s new, it’s different than other coronaviruses.”

Chen told 4 News Now coronaviruses often present themselves with symptoms that come with the common cold, but if those symptoms progress to a high fever or breathing problems, like coughing or shortness of breath, it’s cause for concern.

The CDC said early on, many patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China were linked to a seafood and live animal market, which could signal the start of animal-to-human transmission. Since then, doctors say the virus has been transmitted from one person to another in China — though there are no signs of that in the U.S. just yet.

“The big issue for us right now is to identify people that might have come in contact… So, taking a good history from patients, identifying whether they’ve traveled to China within the last 14 days if they have symptoms or if they’ve been in contact with anyone that may have been in an area that has infection,” said Chen. “Usually, this is spread from either a cough or sneeze, or if you touch somebody that has the virus, so that’s the main concern.”

Meaning, you will not contract the virus through the mail or from imported products from China.

There is no vaccine to prevent the novel coronavirus, so the best way to protect yourself is to avoid the virus altogether, according to the CDC.  Chen told 4 News Now if you have not traveled to China recently or been in contact with someone who has, you should not have reason to worry.