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What are coronaviruses and How can I protect myself? Things to know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in thousands of confirmed cases in China, including cases outside Wuhan City. Additional cases have been identified in a growing number of other international locations, including the United States. There are ongoing investigations to learn more. CDC will update the following U.S. map daily. Information regarding the number of people under investigation will be updated regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

What are coronaviruses and How can I protect myself? Things to know

Patients Under Investigation (PUI) in the United States as of 1/31/2020

Patients Under Investigation (PUI) in the United States as of 1/31/2020


What are coronaviruses?


Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, with symptoms that last only a short time. However, two other human coronaviruses, MERS and SARs, have been known to cause severe symptoms and even death.


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness that is new to humans. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several other countries, including the United States. Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many of them have died.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained.

Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world. The content in this website was developed for the 2003 SARS epidemic. But some guidelines are still being used.

What are the symptoms and signs of coronaviruses?


Initial symptoms of coronaviruses usually include fever greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C), cough, and shortness of breath.

How long would it take for you to become sick if If you were exposed to coronaviruses?


The time between exposure to coronaviruses and the onset of symptoms is called the “incubation period.” As of January 27, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the incubation period for coronaviruses to be from 2–10 days. Previous reports indicated that the incubation period could be as long as 14 days.

WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travelers. In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, the travelers are encouraged to seek
medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider.

Who can get tested for coronaviruses?


Criteria for testing include both symptoms AND possible exposure. To be considered for testing, a patient must have symptoms of the virus — fever and upper-respiratory symptoms such as a cough and shortness of breath. The patient must also have a possibility of exposure to the virus, either through travel to an affected area or documented close contact with an individual who has already been positively diagnosed with the virus. In Massachusetts, the state epidemiologist must also approve the request for testing.

What does “close contact” mean?


The CDC defines “close contact” as either 1) a “prolonged period of time” spent “within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) or within the room or care area” of an individual who has been positively diagnosed with the virus or 2) “direct contact with infectious secretions.” Examples include sharing eating or drinking utensils, close conversation, or kissing, hugging, and other direct physical contact. “Close contact” does not include activities such as walking by a person or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office.

How can I protect myself from coronaviruses?


You should follow the same strategies you would ordinarily use to protect yourself and others during cold and flu season:


  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are feeling sick.


Finally, although coronavirus is on everyone’s mind, we should also remember that an estimated 15 million individuals in the US have contracted flu so far this season. Of those, 8,200 have died, including children and healthy young adults. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, get one now.


In general, people should adhere to appropriate transmission-based isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission is thought to be low. Current information on coronaviruses is limited, thus home precautions should be conservative based on general recommendations for other coronaviruses, like Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and may last up to 14 days According to CDC.

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