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5 Big Questions About Coronavirus

Here’s what you need to know about the new illness—and how to stay healthy.

SOPA Images / Contributor

People in Italy wearing face masks as a precaution against coronavirus

Note: This article has been updated from the print magazine to reflect the latest news.

Note: This article has been updated from the print magazine to reflect the latest news.

As You Read, Think About: What are some ways people are trying to stop the spread of the new coronavirus?

1. What is this new coronavirus?

It’s a virus that causes a disease known as COVID-19. The new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year. It swept through the city, then spread to other parts of China. The virus was soon spread to other countries, including the U.S., by people who traveled while infected.

Both the number of people infected and the number killed by COVID-19 have been increasing every day. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. That is an outbreak of a disease that spreads rapidly and affects many people in different areas around the globe.

Across the world, governments are trying to control the outbreak by restricting travel, closing businesses and schools, and educating citizens about how to stay safe.

It’s a virus that causes a disease known as COVID-19. The new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year. It swept through the city. Then it spread to other parts of China. People who traveled from China while infected have spread the virus to many other countries. The United States is one of them.

The number of people infected by COVID-19 has been increasing every day. So has the number of people who have been killed by it. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. That is an outbreak of a disease that spreads rapidly and affects many people in different areas around the globe.

Across the world, governments are trying to control the outbreak. They are restricting travel and closing businesses and schools. They are also educating citizens about how to stay safe.

2. Let’s back up. What exactly is a virus?

A virus is a type of microscopic germ that can cause an illness. There are hundreds of thousands of different viruses. If you’ve ever had a runny or stuffy nose, there’s a good chance you caught a virus that causes the common cold. A more severe virus we hear about a lot each winter is the influenza (in-floo-EN-zuh) virus, or the flu.

A virus is a type of microscopic germ that can cause an illness. There are hundreds of thousands of different viruses. Have you ever had a runny or stuffy nose? If so, there’s a good chance you caught a virus that causes the common cold. A more severe virus we hear about a lot each winter is the influenza (in-floo-EN-zuh) virus. It’s better known as the flu.

3. So then is coronavirus like the flu?

Sort of. Like the flu, this coronavirus causes a respiratory illness, so it affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Both types of viruses produce some of the same symptoms, such as a cough and fever. Also, experts think the new coronavirus spreads much like other viruses do. When infected people sneeze or cough, they can release the virus into the air and infect other people nearby.

Sort of. Like the flu, this coronavirus causes a respiratory illness. That means it affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Both types of viruses produce some of the same symptoms. They include a cough and fever. Also, experts think the new coronavirus spreads much like other viruses do. When infected people sneeze or cough, they can release the virus into the air. That can infect other people nearby.

4. What makes this virus different?

It’s brand-new, so doctors are still learning about what makes it unique. 

“Viruses are like a big family,” explains Dr. Mark Denison, an infectious disease specialist. “They are all related, but they have different personalities.” 

Denison and other doctors around the world are working to learn about the new virus’s “personality”—like how quickly and easily it spreads and how to fight it. The goal is to eventually develop a vaccine, which doctors say is the best defense against many viruses. A vaccine is a shot that contains harmless parts of the virus. The vaccine is meant to train your immune system to recognize the virus and fight it off.

Health experts are working to have a COVID-19 vaccine ready in about a year.

It’s brand-new, so doctors are still learning about what makes it unique. 

“Viruses are like a big family,” explains Dr. Mark Denison, an infectious disease specialist. “They are all related, but they have different personalities.” 

Denison and other doctors around the world are working to learn about the new virus’s “personality.” They want to know how quickly and easily it spreads and how to fight it. The goal is to eventually develop a vaccine. That is a shot that contains harmless parts of the virus. The vaccine is meant to train your immune system to recognize the virus and fight it off. Doctors say a vaccine is the best defense against many viruses.

Health experts are working to have a COVID-19 vaccine ready in about a year.

5. Should we be worried?

Health experts say that most kids are not at high risk for COVID-19. Even when children get infected with the virus, they do not usually get very sick. But the virus is a very serious threat to adults who are older or who have certain medical conditions, like lung disease.

Federal, state, and local governments are taking steps to keep everyone as safe as possible. In many places, schools and businesses have been temporarily closed to prevent people from spreading the virus. Concerts, sports events, and other big gatherings have been canceled. In addition, people who might have been exposed to the virus are being quarantined. They will be closely monitored to see if they show symptoms.

Health officials say you should follow the current rules and guidelines in your community. You should also take the same steps you would to avoid getting or spreading a cold. Wash your hands frequently, and sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow. (See more tips below.)

Health experts say that most kids are not at high risk for COVID-19. Plus, children who get infected with the virus do not usually get very sick. But the virus is a very serious threat to adults who are older. It’s also a big threat to people who have certain medical conditions, like lung disease.

Federal, state, and local governments are taking steps to keep everyone as safe as possible. That includes trying to prevent infected people from spreading the virus. In many places, schools and businesses have been temporarily closed. Concerts, sports events, and other big gatherings have been canceled. In addition, people who might have been exposed to the virus are being quarantined. They will be closely monitored to see if they show symptoms.

Health officials say you should follow the current rules and guidelines in your community. You should also take the same steps you would to avoid getting or spreading a cold. That includes washing your hands frequently. Also, you should sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow. (See more tips below.)

1. How are people trying to stop the spread of the new coronavirus?

2. Compare and contrast coronavirus and the flu.

3. Explain what Dr. Denison means when he says “Viruses are like a big family.”

1. How are people trying to stop the spread of the new coronavirus?

2. Compare and contrast coronavirus and the flu.

3. Explain what Dr. Denison means when he says “Viruses are like a big family.”

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