What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses widely distributed throughout the world. Some of them have been identified for years, but others have been known for a very short time, such as the Wuhan coronavirus. They can cause various human diseases, ranging from mild processes such as the common cold to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
2. Why are they called that ?
Human coronaviruses owe their name to the spicules that line their crown-shaped surfaces and that are seen perfectly when viewed under a microscope. Many times the Ferrero Rocher bonbon metaphor is used to imagine what some viruses are like. In this case, instead of hazelnuts on the surface of the Ferrero Rocher, we would have a kind of “pinchitos” around it.
MERS-CoV by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0
3 . Where are you from?
Most infect animals, but not people. They are common in animal species as diverse as camels and bats. It is not usual, but sometimes these coronaviruses that inhabit animals can evolve, infect people and from there “become strong” and spread between humans. We have three recent examples of this that we discuss below (SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and our new Wuhan “enemy”, COVID-19).
There are seven types of coronaviruses that can cause more or less serious diseases in humans. There are four considered classics and three that have recently landed.
Coronaviruses considered common:
- 229E(coronavirus alpha)
- NL63(coronavirus alpha)
- OC43(beta coronavirus)
- HKU1(beta coronavirus)
- MERS-CoVis the betacoronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and since then it has caused disease in people from dozens of other countries in the vicinity of the Arabian Peninsula. You are closely monitored to understand its mechanism of action and how to prevent it.
- SARS-CoVis the betacoronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This first made it brown in China in November 2002. It probably sounds familiar to you because it caused a worldwide outbreak with 8,098 probable cases, including 774 deaths. It caused an atypical pneumonia that spread to Hong Kong, Vietnam and other countries thanks to the plane. Luckily, since 2004 we have not heard from him.
- COVID-19(before 2019-nC oV ) the last to arrive, the one that currently has us in check. Its origin is associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan (China). As of February 20, there are more than 2,100 deaths in China and 74,000 infected worldwide. The virus is already in thirty countries, in Spain two cases have been diagnosed and, because of COVID-19, the MWC in Barcelona has been canceled.
4. What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of common human coronaviruses
Common human coronaviruses often cause mild to moderate diseases of the upper respiratory tract, such as the common cold. Symptoms would be typical: runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, or discomfort. They are common viruses and most people become infected with them at some point in their lives.
Sometimes things get complicated (especially in vulnerable populations such as immunosuppressed, babies or older) and these coronaviruses cause diseases in the lower respiratory tract, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
5. Symptoms of new coronaviruses:
Unfortunately, coronaviruses that have been trending topic (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV) often cause severe symptoms.
Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, and shortness of breath that often progress to pneumonia. About 30-40% of MERS patients have died. As we said, the cases of MERS continue to occur around the Arabian Peninsula.
The symptoms of SARS include fever, as well as chills and body aches that generally progress to pneumonia. The good news is that no human cases of SARS have been reported anywhere in the world since 2004.
The WHO has said that COVID-19 is less deadly than SARS and MERS and has highlighted that 80% of those affected are mild and will recover. According to a study recently published by the Chinese authorities, the virus is ” very contagious but not very deadly .”
6. Can COVID-19 be prevented
Since we do not have vaccines against human coronavirus, the measures to reduce the risk of infection are the same that we can apply to prevent the flu or cold:
- Wash your hands frequently. It should be done with soap or disinfecting solutions.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should keep a distance of one meter. In general, a sneeze should never be covered by hand because this favors the transmission of the virus. It is better to use disposable tissues or sneeze on the inside of the elbow. This video can give you an idea of how to do it.
3. Avoid direct contact with the sick and share their utensils.
- Ventilate rooms and frequently clean objects that may be contaminated.
- Consume properly cooked meat.
7. Is there a treatment for COVID-19?
Neither for COVID-19 nor for the rest. There are also no specific treatments for diseases caused by human coronaviruses. In most cases the processes resolve spontaneously. Some of the recommended measures are also similar to those recommended in flu and catarrhal processes such as: taking pain and fever medications ( paracetamol, ibuprofen ) as well as the classic anti-flu drugs , monitoring hydration and, above all, staying home and resting .
While COVID-19 , Wuhan’s former coronavirus, continues to make headlines, flu is rampant throughout the northern hemisphere, causing more infections and more deaths. The symptoms are similar, so it is much more likely that the reason, if accused, is the flu virus. For the moment, and without seeing how infected people evolve around the world, the mortality rate of the new coronavirus is between 2 and 3%, while that of the influenza virus in Spain, in 2018, was in around 2% ( 10% among admitted patients ).
A few weeks ago, in El Mundo-Papel we talked about masks , the use of which is only recommended at the moment for healthcare personnel. We also dismounted fears of the traveling virus via AliExpress packages .
At the moment, there should be no alarm in Spain, but when in doubt about whether any symptoms could be related to COVID-19 , see your doctor.