The novel strain of coronavirus that started infecting people in December of 2019 has officially been named by the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19, as it is now called, continues to infect people in China. However, it has mostly been contained due to governments around the world showing diligence with travelers.
How COVID-19 Makes You Sick
The virus attacks the lungs and there are no antivirals to stop the replication of this virus. For most viral diseases that we encounter (the common cold, herpes, HPV, polio, etc.) there is no “cure”. This is due to the fact that viruses can’t be killed even though antiviral drugs can stop viruses from replicating. In order to be effective, these must be taken soon after infection much like in the case of Tamiflu. Usually, the most doctors can do is support the patient and give their immune system time to fight off the infection. With COVID-19, the virus attacks the lungs and those in critical care must be put on a ventilator and provided with extra oxygen.
The best way to protect yourself from a viral attack is with a vaccine. Vaccines contain small viral parts that activate your immune system to produce antibodies and cells that target a specific virus. Because you’re not being given the actual, live virus, you don’t get sick. However, if and when you do encounter the real thing, your body already has immunity. For COVID-19, the WHO estimates that a vaccine will be available in 18 months.
Risk of COVID-19 Transmission Outside of China
For those who aren’t living in China, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is extremely low. With quarantines and travel bans, the virus should be contained within the Wuhan area. However, since it is currently flu season, make sure that you’re still washing your hands regularly before you eat or touch your face. While the flu is familiar, over 10,000 people have died of it in the United States this season.