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Fast Fact: Coronavirus

COVID-19 is the name given to a new coronavirus disease that began in Wuhan, China in December, 2019. Though the illness is similar to a cold for most people, in some cases it can cause death. The disease has had a terrible impact in China and has quickly spread to many other countries.

“COVI” stands for “coronavirus”, “D” is for “disease”, and the “19” represents the year the virus appeared.

Since COVID-19 first appeared, the disease has spread all through China and to many other countries around the world.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. Above is the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
(Source: NIAID-RML [CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Coronaviruses are viruses that have a spiky ring around them like a crown when viewed with a powerful microscope. Though there are many coronaviruses which affect animals, before COVID-19, only six coronaviruses were known to affect humans. Four of these cause common colds. The other two cause more serious lung illnesses, and can be deadly.

COVID-19 has surprised scientists in several ways. At first it was thought that the disease couldn’t spread easily between humans. That’s not true. But it seems that people can have the disease for a while without showing any signs that they have it.

Though many people have died from the disease, most people who get it recover. For about 80% of the people who get the disease, the effects are mild – like a common cold. The virus seems to be much more serious for patients who are older or already sick. Children seem to be less affected than others.

CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel
Governments around the world are working hard to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Above is a kit used to test for COVID-19 in the US.
(Source: US Centers for Disease Control [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Governments around the world are working hard to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

So far there is no cure for COVID-19, but many of the treatments that are used for other illnesses like the flu are also helpful in dealing with the effects of the coronavirus infection. Scientists are trying to find medicines which can treat the disease.

Scientists around the world are also working hard to develop a vaccine  which could prevent the disease. That process needs to be handled very carefully, so it could be some time before a vaccine is actually ready to use in humans.

This comic does a nice job of discussing the coronavirus in a clear way.

antimicrobial resistance-hand washing
Though there currently is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, some patients get better on their own. To protect yourself and others, it’s always a good idea to cough into your elbow and wash your hands carefully.
(Source: Penn State, via

Things You Can Do

To keep diseases like COVID-19 and the flu from spreading:

• Stay home if you’re sick
• Wear a mask when you go out
• Stay a safe distance away from others – about 6 feet (2 meters)
• Cough into your elbow
• Wash your hands well, and do it often.
• Once your hands are clean, try not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Doctors suggest washing for at least 20 seconds, which is about as long as it takes to sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice. also has these COVID-19 resources:
Collection of our articles on COVID-19
Regular, detailed COVID-19 updates
Coronavirus Words Explained



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