By now you've heard the news: the coronavirus – a serious illness that started in China – is making its way around the world. But what is the coronavirus? Coronavirus is actually a family of viruses named for their shape (having a crown). The new version making headlines today is officially called COVID-19 and appears closely related to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that also originated in China in 2003. Both seem to have originated in bats and spread to humans. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, COVID-19 is also called SARS-CoV-2.
While the virus is still new to humans, a fast response has allowed health officials around the world to make observations that can inform everyone on ways to recognize and control the spread of the disease.
You may wonder why an illness with fewer symptoms than influenza already has a reputation for being so dangerous. For patients with other underlying health problems – the elderly, young children and people with already weakened immune systems – the symptoms may be severe and even lead to death. If this sounds familiar, we hear the same thing every year about the flu, and it's true. Currently, we have vaccines for the different versions of the flu, but since COVID-19 is still new, a vaccine is not yet available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the main way the coronavirus is spread is through close contact with an infected person – within 6 feet – through respiratory droplets that are produced when the person coughs or sneezes. A secondary way may be by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a surface that has the virus on it.
The CDC has recently updated its recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19. While the guidelines are similar to those for preventing the flu, one recent, notable addition is the wearing of a cloth mask out in public. Other recent updates are italicized below.
One final way to assist with flu and coronavirus prevention is to install a MERV 13 rated air or furnace filter in your home or business. MERV 13 filters capture airborne viruses and bacteria from coughs and sneezes. While there's no guarantee a strong air filter will protect you from the coronavirus, clean air helps keep your immune system strong. Be sure to change your filters regularly because clean filters mean cleaner air.