8 things everyone needs to know about coronavirus

The coronavirus continues to spread globally, with over 111,000 cases and 3,800 deaths as of Monday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. Still, people don’t know much about the new virus, what its symptoms are or how to prevent it. Alok Patel, MD, a physician and medical contributor, is breaking the virus down and letting Yahoo Lifestyle readers know what eight things they should be aware of — starting with its name.

Whether you’ve heard of coronavirus 2019, novel coronavirus or COVID, Patel says that each name is referring to the same virus, and is actually a variation of the name already attributed to a family of viruses or diseases seen in the country for decades. And although the latest strand is a brand new coronavirus, it’s spread just the same as existing viruses, including the flu.

“They’re usually going to spread from those droplets that people spew out when they sneeze, when they cough, from a runny nose. They cough those, you can inhale them, you can get them on your hands and then subsequently touch your mouth, your nose, your eyes and transmit it that way,” Patel explains.

However, the virus can likely live, at least for a bit, on surfaces, including a kitchen counter, a doorknob and even your cell phone. “So, when it doubt, you have to clean all of these surfaces,” he says. “But most importantly, you have to clean and wash your hands.”

Symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to those of a cold or flu, with a fever, cough and some shortness of breath. They can be mild and subtle but it’s important to make sure that they don’t progress to a higher fever or more serious level of breathing difficulty. Patel says that while anybody can get coronavirus, it’s the elderly and people with existing medical conditions that are most susceptible to a more severe illness course.

When it comes to testing for coronavirus, the process is much the same to testing for the flu, with a nose swab or a sample of sputum. Unlike many existing viruses, however, there is no vaccine for coronavirus, although there is one in development. “People are estimating anywhere from end of the year to several years before that is widely distributed,” Patel says.

In the meantime, people have to be diligent about washing their hands, cleaning surfaces and avoiding touching their faces in order to stay protected, while making sure to be prepared for an outbreak. “We may have to work from home, we may not be able to go on that trip we planned, our children’s daycare or schools might be closed. We may have to stay at home,” Patel explains. “But it’s just generally good practice to make sure you have a two-week supply of anything you may need. Whether it be food or prescription medication. Not only for you, but also your family.”

Patel also urges that the practice of good hygiene be taught to young children now, not only for the sake of coronavirus, but also for future health.