Novel coronavirus: Your questions, answered

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THE current outbreak of infections with a novel type of coronavirus has sparked global anxiety and concern that the virus might spread too far and too fast and cause dramatic harm before health officials find a way to stop it. But what are the realities of the new coronavirus outbreak? We investigate.
What are the realities of the new coronavirus outbreak?
In December last year, reports started to emerge that a coronavirus that specialists had never before seen in humans had begun to spread among the population of Wuhan, a large city in the Chinese province of Hubei.
Since then, the virus has spread to other countries, both in and outside Asia, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare this as a pandemic.
To date, the novel coronavirus — currently dubbed “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2 for short — has been responsible for more than 1,000,000 infections globally, causing over 70,000 deaths. The U.S. is the most affected country.
But what do we really know about this virus? And how is it likely to affect the global population?
Medical News Today have contacted the WHO, used the information that public health organizations have offered, and looked at the newest studies that have featured in peer-reviewed journals to answer these and other questions from our readers.
Stay informed with live updates on the current Covid-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.
1. What is the new virus?
SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Coronaviruses, in general, are a family of viruses that target and affect mammals’ respiratory systems. According to their specific characteristics, there are four main “ranks” (genera) of coronaviruses, which are called alpha, beta, delta, and gamma.
Most of these only affect animals, but a few can also pass to humans. Those that are transmissible to humans belong to only two of these genera: alpha and beta. Only two coronaviruses have previously caused global outbreaks. The first of these was the SARS coronavirus — responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) — which first started spreading back in 2002, also in China. The SARS virus epidemic primarily affected the populations of mainland China and Hong Kong, and it died off in 2003.

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