An infectious SARS-like coronavirus is currently spreading in parts of Asia, with the number of infections now more than 4,500, and 106 deaths attributed to the disease.
Chinese authorities have imposed strict transport restrictions across China in an effort to control the spread, with the city of Wuhan, at the centre of the outbreak, placed in lockdown to try and quarantine the deadly virus.
The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally, although most of the deaths have been in the Hubei province.
So far, there have been no deaths from the virus outside of China.
The strain is causing concern due to its connection to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed almost 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.
What is the coronavirus?
The virus is a new strain of coronavirus, which is in the same family as SARS and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
This particular strain originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, the largest city in central China.
The first suspected cases of the virus were reported at the end of last year on 31 December 2019 in Wuhan, but it has since been confirmed in other parts of China.
Almost 50 cases have also since been reported outside of China, including:
- Thailand - eight cases
- USA, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan - five cases
- Malaysia, South Korea, Japan - four cases
- France - three cases
- Vietnam - two cases
- Nepal, Canada, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Germany - one case
What are the symptoms?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explaining they usually cause “mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses”, like the common cold.
Most people get infected with these viruses at some point during their lives, although they usually only last for a short period of time.
Symptoms of the virus may include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- a general feeling of being unwell
Human coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, or more severe diseases such as SARS. However, this is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults.
How does it spread?
Coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the following means:
- the air by coughing and sneezing
- close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
- fecal contamination, although this is rare
How to stay safe
There are currently no vaccines to protect against coronavirus infection, but there are ways to help reduce your risk of contracting it.
The CDC advise:
- washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid close contact with people who are sick
If you are experiencing cold-like symptoms, you can help reduce the risk of spreading it by staying at home while you are ill, and avoiding close contact with others.
You should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw this away before washing your hands. It is also recommended to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.