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What Is the Coronavirus? As Disease Spreads From China To U.S., Here's What You Need to Know

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The new coronavirus that sickened hundreds of people in China has now spread to several other countries, officials said, prompting concerns from public health officials across the globe. 

At least nine people have died from the new virus in China and nearly 450 others have fallen ill since the first case was identified in the major city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, CBS News reported

Scientists confirmed this week that the virus can be spread through human-to-human transmission, and cases have been found in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. 

Here's what you need to know. 

What is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of infectious viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, from ones similar to the common cold – runny nose, cough, and sore throat – to more severe symptoms that can lead to pneumonia. 

The virus gets its name from the Spanish word corona, or crown, because under a microscope, that’s what it looks like. There are seven known coronaviruses in the world, according to the CDC. Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are both severe types of coronavirus that can cause death. 

The new coronavirus that is spreading in China has been named 2019-nCoV, and its symptoms include cough, fever, body aches and trouble breathing or shortness of breath. 

How can people contract the virus?

While it’s not clear how infectious the new virus is, other coronaviruses are usually spread by coming into contact with someone who has them and is coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by touching an infected person's hands or face or an object they have recently touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

The CDC says that while the new coronavirus is considered "a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time." 

Has the new coronavirus been identified in the U.S.? 

Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a man in Snohomish County, Washington, is the first known case in the U.S. The man, who is reportedly in his 30s, is being treated for the virus at a local hospital after returning from a trip to Wuhan, China, on January 15. 

The patient, who is in his 30s, is “doing well” but is hospitalized “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The CDC has deployed a team to Washington as part of its ongoing investigation, including potentially tracing if any of the man's close contacts have also become ill. 

The CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have now implemented "enhanced health screenings" at airports to check on people who have visited the Wuhan area. But the Washington state man traveled back to the U.S. before the screenings were put into place, according to reports.

How is the virus treated?

There is currently no treatment for the virus, and most people will recover on their own, according to the CDC. Over-the-counter pain and fever medications can help, as can humidifiers or steam showers to soothe the throat. 

A vaccine for the new coronavirus is currently in the "very preliminary stages," according to the National Institutes of Health. 

How can I protect myself from getting sick? 

Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth before you have washed your hands. Avoid travel to the Wuhan area, and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home if you feel ill, and always your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. 

Clean and disinfect the objects and surfaces around you. If you are concerned about your symptoms, see a healthcare provider.

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