Health

What we know so far about the coronavirus

Canadian public health officials stress that the risk of contracting the coronavirus in this country remains low. But Canadians want information about the disease and how to avoid getting it.

Symptoms, prevention, masks and more

The cruise ship Diamond Princess is seen anchored at Yokohama Port, south of Tokyo, last week. (Hiroki Yamauchi/Kyodo News via The Associated Press)

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the new coronavirus an emergency of "international concern" on Jan. 30, after it was first reported from Wuhan, China, late last year. Canadian officials stress that the risk of contracting the virus in this country remains low. But Canadians are worried and want information about the disease. 

Here are the latest developments:

  • China on Wednesday reported another drop in the number of new cases of the viral infection and 97 more deaths, pushing the total dead past 1,100.
  • The illness has a new name: COVID-19.
  • Despite the official end of the extended Lunar New Year holiday, many businesses in China remain closed.
  • Japan's health ministry has confirmed 174 cases aboard Carnival Corp.'s Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama.  

What is a coronavirus? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They cause a range of illness, including the common cold, pneumonia, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and COVID-19, the illness at the centre of the current outbreak. 

The group responsible for classifying and naming viruses has tentatively called the virus  2019-nCoV— not to be confused with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

WATCH | A short video answering many of the main questions: 

Information about the coronavirus outbreak is spreading fast, but what do we actually know about the illness? CBC News medical contributor and family physician Dr. Peter Lin breaks down the facts about what it is, where it came from, how it spreads and what you can do to protect yourself. 5:10

The symptoms

The initial symptoms are mainly fever, with a few reports of people having difficulty breathing, and chest X-rays showing signs of pneumonia in both lungs. 

The WHO says signs of infection can include respiratory complaints, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe respiratory problems, kidney failure and even death. 

Low risk for Canadians

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist in Toronto, explains why Canadians don't need to panic. He says this coronavirus is not as contagious as influenza, nor as dangerous as SARS. 

Infectious disease specialist says risk to Canadians is low 0:46

What to do if you think you've been exposed

If you think you have been exposed to the coronavirus — for example, if you have travelled to Wuhan or Hubei province and are having symptoms — the Public Health Agency of Canada advises avoiding contact with others and following up with your health-care professional.

This story explains what you should do to avoid spreading the infection to anyone else as you seek medical help. 

Preventing the spread

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, coronaviruses are most commonly spread by:

  • Coughing or sneezing.
  • Close personal contact, such as shaking hands.
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. 

To prevent infection:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.

Read more about symptoms and prevention here. 

A vaccine

Scientists work at Saskatoon's VIDO-InterVac laboratory, where research on a vaccine for the coronavirus is underway. (David Stobbe/VIDO-InterVac/University of Saskatchewan/Reuters)

CBC News got access to the high-security lab in Saskatchewan where scientists are working to develop a vaccine. 

Where this coronavirus came from 

The VIDO-InterVac team has 50 scientists from 26 countries. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

One of the main ways scientists can figure out how to prevent the spread of an infectious disease is to zero in on its animal host and how it jumped from that animal to a person.

According to Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist who teaches medical students about environmental change and human health at the University of Toronto, "if we don't deal with the heart of the problem where these things can emerge, it could easily happen again."

You can read more about why it is so crucial for scientists to figure out the animal source of the coronavirus here.

Battling misinformation

It has become too common for misinformation to spread on social media, which in turn causes fear and panic. It's happening with the coronavirus outbreak. 

WATCH | Tips to protect yourself from getting — and spreading — false information about the coronavirus:

Officials are reminding people to get information about coronavirus from credible sources after large amounts of misinformation about the illness was spread on social media. 2:09

Should you wear a mask?

The short answer is — it depends.

Are you sick? Wear a mask. 

Are you trying to keep from getting sick? A mask probably won't help. 

WATCH | The full explanation:

You see more people wearing them in public, but will wearing a face mask really protect you from the coronavirus?    2:27

Travel to China

The Canadian government is warning against all travel to the coronavirus-affected region of China

Air Canada is among the airlines that have suspended flights to parts of China

A woman walks in front of the closed wholesale seafood market, in Wuhan, China, where health authorities believe the coronavirus might have originated. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty)

What about Canadians in China? 

A second Canadian flight repatriating people from Hubei province landed this week at CFB Trenton.

The first Canadian charter flight carried out 174 Canadians and their family members, who are now undergoing a two-week quarantine at the military base in Trenton, Ont.