Breaking down the known facts about Novel Coronavirus

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Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 6:04 PM AKST
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The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. has increased to 12, and the number of people awaiting lab testing has reached 75. None of those people are in Alaska.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are emphasizing that U.S. residents are still at low risk for the virus, but the myths and misinformation seem to be spreading just as fast as this virus.

Numerous posts on social media falsely suggest that because some disinfecting products list "human coronavirus" on their bottles, the new coronavirus behind the outbreak in China was already known. In fact, coronaviruses are not new. What is new is this particular strain.

"The common coronaviruses — and there are four strains that frequently circulate throughout the globe — those are typically cold viruses," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. "They are typically associated with milder illness and you don't typically see hospitalization or death with those coronavirus infections."

What makes this new strain so concerning? Researchers recently discovered it can be passed from person to person through the air without direct contact.

"Another way that people can get this novel coronavirus is through kissing, shaking hands, and then touching your nose or your mouth — close personal contact, or sharing utensils," McLaughlin said.

Another common misconception has people concerned about packages or pieces of mail being shipped from China.

"One of the questions that frequently comes up is how long does this virus stay viable outside of the human body, say on a table, a doorknob, or a package," McLaughlin said. "The answer is we don't know yet, but it's likely to be on the order of minutes to maybe a couple of hours."

Regardless, it's important to stay aware and vigilant, but perhaps more importantly for people in the U.S. right now is being vigilant about protection from influenza.

"So far in the United States, we have only seen 12 cases of the novel coronavirus, whereas CDC estimates every year we see about 8% of the U.S. population gets Influenza," McLaughlin said. "That's something on the order of 26 million people, and of those people that get the flu, hundreds of thousands wind up being hospitalized every year, and every year we get thousands of deaths, usually in the tens of thousands."

Dr. McLaughlin says the flu and the novel coronavirus share many of the same symptoms, but there are differences.

"Primarily, (with novel coronavirus) people are developing cough, fever and shortness of breath. People are also developing muscle aches and general fatigue. You'll see all of those symptoms with influenza, but with influenza, you typically have more congestion, particularly in the sinuses. People will have runny noses, often times, people with Influenza will also have nausea and vomiting, and sometimes they will have diarrhea and we're seeing those symptoms much less frequently with the novel coronavirus."

McLaughlin says while there are antiviral medications available to treat the flu, currently, there are no medications for the novel coronavirus, so any therapy or natural remedy you see online is simply false.

Health officials say the best way to prevent any infection is stay away from others who may be infected and to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

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