What you need to know about novel coronavirus and how to avoid it

PHOENIX – Concerns over the spread of novel coronavirus continue to grow after a Tempe resident was confirmed Sunday to have contracted the respiratory illness. In China – where the virus first was detected last year – more than 170 people have died, about 50 million have been quarantined in affected cities, flights out of Hubei province have been curtailed and foreigners are being evacuated.

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Worldwide, the number of cases surpasses 8,000, nearly all of them in China.

Chinese health officials believe the virus came from an animal source in the city of Wuhan that then spread person-to-person. As of Wednesday, Jan. 29, there are five confirmed cases in the U.S., in Arizona, California, Washington and Illinois.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that affect animals, including camels, cats and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Officials suspect the novel strain, identified as 2019-nCoV, emerged from the SARS virus, which killed hundreds around the globe in 2003. There is no vaccine for coronavirus.

Symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath and can appear anywhere between two days or two weeks after exposure. The novel coronavirus spreads person-to-person, much like influenza, and can easily be contracted through exposure to someone who has the virus.

Illustration of the human coronavirus, which infects the respiratory tract. (Photo by BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In the current outbreak, the CDC said, symptoms have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying. Older people and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable. Drugmakers are rushing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, USA Today reported this week.

Although the threat to Americans who have not visited Wuhan is considered low by the CDC, it offers these recommendations to reduce the spread of viruses:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, or use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid direct contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.
  • Clean and disinfect items you use on a regular basis.

If you think you might have been exposed to novel coronavirus, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

News Digital Producer, Phoenix
News Photographer, Phoenix