VB News Desk: Could the COVID-19 Coronavirus Become a Pandemic?

Back in January, a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which leads to a disease called COVID-19, began making headlines as it began to infect more and more people in countries around the world.

It may have started small, but now there have been over 80,000 total cases and 2,700 deaths reported. While the majority of COVID-19 cases have been in China, the number of infected individuals in other countries is on the rise as well. As a result, the WHO has now declared the new coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern" (PHEIC). COVID-19 is also categorized as a public health emergency here in the US

COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, and causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. Symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure to the disease, and the severity of those symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.

dyspnea-gifCOVID-19 can lead to pneumonia—shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a symptom of pneumonia as well as COVID-19. Animation from Physiology & Pathology.

Despite efforts around the world to prevent the spread of this disease, cases have recently spiked in Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Many are wondering whether this outbreak will become a pandemic, achieving a worldwide spread like the H1N1 swine flu in 2009

The good news is that COVID-19 hasn’t yet reached pandemic level. The WHO reports that the spread of COVID-19 in China has likely “peaked and plateaued” by this point and, according to experts, the virus can still be contained

cdc-coronavirus-imageCOVID-19. Image courtesy of the CDC’s Public Health Image Library.

Just because COVID-19 can be contained, however, doesn’t mean it will. A pandemic is still a very real possibility, and public health organizations like the CDC are encouraging “businesses, hospitals, and communities” to prepare for the spread of COVID-19

The CDC also has recommendations for individuals, which include “taking everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs” such as avoiding contact with people who are ill, hand-washing, avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose, and mouth, and covering coughs and sneezes. It’s also still flu season (and so far, the flu has killed more people in the US this season than COVID-19 has), so simple behaviors like this will do double-duty. 

People who have developed a fever and respiratory symptoms after traveling to China in the last 14 days, or people who have been in close contact with those travelers who are showing symptoms, are advised by the CDC to contact their healthcare provider ASAP. Individuals who have COVID-19 or suspect they have COVID-19 can also take steps to prevent the spread of the disease

respiratory-system-structures-1Respiratory system structures. Image from Human Anatomy Atlas.

To learn more about other respiratory illnesses, check out these resources from the Visible Body Blog and Learn Site: 

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