what is coronavirus

After 7 African countries confirmed cases of coronavirus within their borders, South Africans have been frantically searching for answers about the disease, also called COVID-19.

Here are the most frequently searched questions in South Africa, with their answers:

1. What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is named after the Latin word “corona” which means crown because of its sun-like spikes when viewed under a microscope.

Coronavirus has been around for a while and has caused serious outbreaks of illnesses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which was first reported in Asia in February 2003, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) which was identified in Saudi-Arabia in 2012.

This new outbreak is a completely new strain, causing a new disease, recently named Covid-19.

In a nutshell, the illness is called Covid-19, caused by a new strain of coronavirus (called SARS-Cov-2, because of its genetic similarity to the virus that caused the SARS outbreak).

2. What causes coronavirus infection?

Here it’s assumed that “coronavirus” as a search term refers to the disease itself (Covid-19). Covid-19 is caused by the new strain of coronavirus called SARS-Cov-2.

3. How did the new coronavirus outbreak start?

The first case of the disease caused by this new virus was reported in December 2019. A patient in Wuhan city, China, reportedly complained of symptoms similar to pneumonia and visited a local hospital. Within days, other patients presented with similar symptoms, and officials started investigating this new illness.

It is believed that the first patient caught the virus at a wildlife and seafood market in Wuhan city centre.

4. How is coronavirus spread?

Scientists have determined coronaviruses to be mostly zoonotic (a disease that spreads from animals to humans). The origin of SARS was found to be bats and civet cats, while MERS was traced back to the dromedary camel.

While the origin of the new disease was found to be a seafood market in Wuhan, scientists were not initially sure if there was clear evidence of human-to-human contact. But earlier this year, Chinese health officials confirmed that human-to-human transmission was now the main cause of transmission.

We now know that the virus spreads quite easily through respiratory droplets; through person-to-person contact within a 1.8m radius; and by touching a surface where the virus has landed and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes. Spreading via surfaces, however, seems less common.

Read also: Coronavirus: What to do when you suspect you may have been exposed

5. How to prevent coronavirus infection?

We are currently being bombarded by information on how to prevent infection by the coronavirus, which ranges from the sensible (e.g. washing hands) to the bizarre (e.g. eating onions and garlic).

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the best way to prevent spreading the SARS-Cov-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease is to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, avoid touching your face with unclean hands; keeping your distance from people who are showing symptoms; and coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow to avoid spreading droplets onto your hands.

6. How many people have died from coronavirus infection?

To date, 3 286 deaths have been reported from 95 488 cases worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of all cases present with mild symptoms, while the rest require hospitalisation due to more serious respiratory symptoms. Among the more serious cases, there is a 3.4% mortality rate, while the rest recover.

7. Has the coronavirus appeared in South Africa?

There has been one confirmed case of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa. Dr Zweli Mkhize recently confirmed that a man from Kwa-Zulu Natal tested positive for the virus. The patient had returned from Italy with his family on 1 March 2020 and swiftly sought medical attention after displaying symptoms.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) stated that they have so far tested 181 persons for the Covid-19 and the virus causing Covid-19, and that all those tests have come back negative.

Two South Africans working on a Japanese cruise ship contracted Covid-19, but fully recovered, according to News24.

8. What are the symptoms of coronavirus infection?

The most common symptoms listed by the WHO are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough

Other symptoms may include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore through
  • Diarrhoea

9. Where has the coronavirus spread to?

According to reports, the virus has spread to 83 more countries besides China. Here is an extensive map listing all the affected countries.

10. Where does the coronavirus come from?

Coronaviruses have always been around, even before the current outbreak.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.

Sad news is that the current coronavirus outbreak may not be the last, as, according to the WHO, there are several known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.


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