In the weeks since the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was first identified, the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 78,811 in 29 countries, with 2,462 reported deaths (2,445 in China). As the global health community fights to contain the growing outbreak, a second, parallel epidemic of misinformation is alarming and confusing the general public. Below, some important facts everyone needs to know about the coronavirus:
1. What is the novel coronavirus?
Now called COVID-19, the mysterious acute respiratory illness that first appeared in December is part of a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to the common cold.
2. How is the coronavirus transmitted?
The virus is transmitted through direct contact, coughing and sneezing, and touching surfaces contaminated by the virus. It is not yet known how long the virus survives on objects, but simple disinfectants can kill it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spread of coronaviruses from person to person happens most often when people are no more than six feet apart.
.@UNICEF remains concerned about the spread of the novel #Coronavirus. The outbreak is a timely reminder of the simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from life-threatening viruses: https://t.co/EPW706Nt0J@WHO pic.twitter.com/nTuXgQZlKW— Henrietta H. Fore (@unicefchief) February 3, 2020
3. How to protect yourself and your children from the coronavirus:
- Wash hands often. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.
- Don't get close to anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.
- Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals.
4. What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms can include fever, dry cough and fatigue. In most cases, symptoms have remained mild. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. Within China, the known case fatality rate (CFR, the proportion of cases who die) is approximately 2 percent, although epidemiologists say this figure is most likely high, because many people with mild or no symptoms are never diagnosed. Symptoms can appear as quickly as two days after initial exposure, or up to two weeks later.
5. Can children get coronavirus?
Cases of coronavirus in children have been remarkably low, according to a report published in JAMA. Children infected by the coronavirus typically have only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. It's not unusual for children to be mildly affected by viruses that can cause severe illnesses in adults — chickenpox, for example.
In contrast, so far during the 2019-2020 season, 105 children have died from influenza in the United States. The best way to protect children from the flu, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is to make sure they receive their annual vaccination.
6. Healthy people do not need to wear masks.
7. UNICEF is supporting the coronavirus response with supplies and expertise.
By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency on January 30, UNICEF had already rushed the first shipment of 6 metric tons of medical supplies to aid response efforts. UNICEF Supply Division is working closely with WHO and partners for a coordinated multi-sectoral response in affected countries.
Respiratory masks, protective suits and other badly needed supplies flown from UNICEF's warehouse in Copenhagen are protecting health workers on the front lines and helping to contain the virus. More supplies are set to be delivered where they are needed most in the coming days and weeks.
From UNICEF’s global supply hub in Copenhagen to Wuhan: 10,860 protective suits, 1,577 surgical masks, 18,371 respiratory masks en route to support the Chinese government response to the #coronavirus outbreak pic.twitter.com/KV0wTljGNC— UNICEF Supply (@UNICEFSupply) January 29, 2020
"The coronavirus is spreading at a breakneck speed and it is important to put all the necessary resources into halting it," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "We may not know enough about the virus's impact on children or how many may be affected — but we do know that close monitoring and prevention are key. Time is not on our side."
Top photo: People wearing face masks line up to enter a children’s hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on January 30, 2020 after the nation’s first case of novel coronavirus COVID-19 was reported. © UNICEF/UNI288092/Chhin Sothy/AFP-Services