US Pharm. 2020;45(4):13-14.

A Newly Discovered Virus Strain

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that can infect humans and animals. There are several types of coronavirus, some more common than others. Common coronavirus strains (229E, NL63, OC43, or HKU1) cause mild illness, like the common cold. Some coronaviruses originated in animals but mutated into new human viruses. The most recent examples of these are MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), and SARS-CoV-2, the newly discovered coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. The first case in the United States was in January 2020 in Washington State, and has since spread to all 50 states.


Mostly Spread Via Direct Contact

Since COVID-19 is a new virus, our understanding of the origin, spread and risks evolves as more information emerges. The virus appears to require close contact for human-to-human transmission (i.e., within 6 feet). It primarily spreads via droplets released when someone sneezes or coughs. The droplets can land in the nose, eyes, or mouths of those nearby or be inhaled directly and lead to infection. COVID-19 appears to spread easily from person to person. Transmission can also occur when one touches their eyes, nose, and mouth after touching a surface where droplets have landed. However, this does not appear to be the primary mode of COVID-19 transmission. Since the virus does not survive well on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread via food and food packaging. 

The COVID-19 virus causes an illness with symptoms such as fever, tiredness, cough, and shortness of breath. Some may experience body aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. The symptoms are usually mild and appear gradually, typically between 2-14 days of exposure, and range in severity from very mild symptoms to more severe symptoms and even death. Approximately 1 in 5 individuals testing positive for coronavirus reported no noticeable symptoms. The virus can be detected in the respiratory system before symptoms present and is detectable for weeks after symptoms are present. It is unclear if, during this time period, the virus can be spread to others. 

Complications Similar to Influenza

The majority of individuals who contract coronavirus will experience mild-to-moderate symptoms and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms the way they would a severe cold or the flu, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes, are more likely to develop severe illness.

Preventing COVID-19 Spread

At the time of this publishing, there was no developed vaccine or available to prevent infection. However, possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are being actively tested in clinical trials. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus. This includes regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, keeping a social distance (at least 6 feet) when around others, and covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face covering when around others, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, avoiding contact with people who are sick, staying at home when you are feeling unwell, covering your face when coughing or sneezing, throwing any used tissues in the trash and frequently disinfecting surfaces you may touch.

There are two types of tests available to detect COVID-19: viral testing and antibody testing. The viral test determines if you have a detectable level of virus in your system that would indicate an active infection. The antibody test is able to measure circulating antibodies that your body creates after being exposed to the virus. Because antibodies can take 1 to 3 weeks to develop, antibody testing is not used to diagnose active COVID-19 infection. Not everyone needs to be tested, so if you are experiencing symptoms or are interested in an antibody test, consult with your healthcare practitioner. 

Your healthcare provider, the CDC, and trusted healthcare professionals are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is known to exist in your area.

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