The new coronavirus is causing fear and uncertainty around the world. While there are still a lot of unknowns about coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, the experts do know a great deal and their advice can help guide your day-to-day interactions.
Here are most common questions people are asking about the disease with answers collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, infectious disease experts and NBC News medical correspondents.
1. What is the new coronavirus?
It’s a new strain of coronavirus — part of a large family of viruses that can infect people and animals, and cause illness.
This most recently discovered type of coronavirus and the disease it causes were unknown before a human outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.
Counting the new strain, there are now seven known coronaviruses that can infect people.
2. Can you get coronavirus twice?
NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres answered this one on TODAY: "It doesn't look like it," he said. "It looks like once you get it, your body develops immunity to it and you get antibodies and you can't get it again. We don't know how long that protection lasts, though. Maybe a year or longer."
3. What causes coronavirus?
Coronaviruses that previously only infected animals can sometimes evolve and become a new human coronavirus. Experts suspect this is what happened with this new strain.
The infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus is called COVID-19. The virus is now spreading from person to person.
4. What are coronavirus symptoms?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.
5. Is coronavirus airborne? How is it transmitted?
Evidence so far suggests the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, rather than through the air.
But it’s a new virus and there are many unknowns. It’s possible droplets in the air could make others sick even after an ill person has left the area.
Another unanswered question is whether infected people can spread the disease even when they feel fine, noted NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.
"Can you walk around and have coronavirus and either be really mildly symptomatic and think you have a cold? Or be completely asymptomatic and transmit it?" she wondered. It's an answer experts are trying to figure out.
6. Is coronavirus deadly?
Yes, about 2% of people with the COVID-19 have died. That's compared to about 0.1% mortality for the flu.
Older people and those with existing medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop a serious illness that leads to pneumonia and makes it difficult to breathe.
The majority of people who have had the disease, 80%, have had mild symptoms and haven’t required hospital care, said Dr. Roberto Posada, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital in New York City.
“Unfortunately, 20% of infected people develop more significant disease,” he noted. “Most of those who have died have been older adults.”
People who start feeling sicker several days into the disease should seek medical attention, Azar noted.
7. What is the coronavirus death toll?
More than 6,000 have died of the coronavirus since the start of January, according to NBC News reports, the World Health Organization (WHO) and figures from state government leaders and health officials.
8. Where is coronavirus now?
As of March 15, NBC News reported that COVID-19 cases were confirmed in at least 110 countries.
9. How many U.S. cases of the coronavirus are there?
As of March 16, according to NBC News there were more than 3,500 cases confirmed in the U.S. There have been 67 deaths.
10. Is there a coronavirus cure?
Not yet. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, though researchers are racing to develop one. Vaccine candidates will likely be tested this spring and summer, "but by the time we get something that's both safe and effective, we're looking at at least 12-18 months," Azar said.
11. How do you treat COVID-19?
There’s no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. Patients get supportive care to breathe easier and help their bodies fight the disease.
To treat COVID-19 at home, Torres shared some advice: "You do the same thing you would do for a cold: fluids, rest, anything to bring the fever down, cough medicine."
12. If you contract COVID-19, what symptoms would need to be treated at a hospital?
"The tell-tale sign for this virus, it's a respiratory illness, is the shortness of breath ... If you start getting shortness of breath, it's definitely a sign to go to the hospital. If you're having a hard time getting a breath in, or start getting a sustained fever, over 24 hours or above 101," Torres said.
This story was originally published in February 2020.