Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19) featured image

Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Experts are still learning about the coronavirus (COVID-19). With new information coming out every day, it can feel overwhelming at times. Here are the answers to some questions you may have.

wearing mask

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.


What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.


How Does Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?

People can catch coronavirus from others who have the virus. This happens when an infected person sneezes or coughs, sending tiny droplets into the air. These can land in the nose, mouth, or eyes of someone nearby, or be breathed in.

People also can get infected if they touch an infected droplet on a surface and then touch their own nose, mouth, or eyes.

Experts are looking at whether the virus can spread through stool (poop).


Where do coronaviruses come from?

Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals with some of them also known to infect humans.

Bats are considered as natural hosts of these viruses yet several other species of animals are also known to be a source. For instance, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is transmitted to humans from camels, and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-1 (SARS-CoV-1) is transmitted to humans from civet cats.

More information on coronaviruses can be found on the ECDC factsheet.


Are animals responsible for COVID-19 in people?

The predominant route of transmission of COVID-19 is from human to human.

Current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus emerged from an animal source. Investigations are underway to find that source (including species involved) and establish the potential role of an animal reservoir in this disease.

However, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source or to explain the original route of transmission from an animal source to humans.

Genetic sequence data reveals that the COVID-19 virus is a close relative of other CoV found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (Horseshoe Bat) populations. There is the possibility that transmission to humans involved an intermediate host.

Priorities for research to investigate the animal source were discussed by the OIE informal advisory group on COVID-19 and were presented at the WHO Global Research and Innovation Forum (11-12 February 2020) by the President of the OIE Wildlife Working Group.

For more information on the OIE informal advisory group and the WHO R and D roadmap please see the links under ‘more information’ at the bottom of this page.


Can humans transmit COVID-19 virus to animals?

Now that COVID-19 virus infections are widely distributed in the human population there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans.

To date, two dogs have been infected with the COVID-19 virus following close contact with infected humans.

Studies are underway to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the COVID-19 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species.

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by a person to person contact.


How severe is COVID-19 infection?

Preliminary findings indicate that the mortality rate for COVID-19 is 20-30 per thousand people diagnosed. This is significantly less than the 2003 SARS outbreak. However, it is much higher than the mortality rate for seasonal influenza.


Who Should Wear a Face Mask?

You should wear a face mask if:

  • You are taking care of someone who is (or might be) infected with the coronavirus.
  • You are coughing or sneezing.
  • You have coronavirus or have been tested for coronavirus.
  • You are a health care provider.


How Can We Protect Ourselves From Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

To help protect yourself and your family from the coronavirus (COVID-19):

  • Avoid people who are sick. If someone at home is sick, take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Try to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people.
  • Follow national and local recommendations for social distancing and leaving your home.
  • Wash your hands well and often. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Teach your kids to do the same.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Use a household cleaner or wipe to clean surfaces and objects that people touch a lot.


Where Can I Get Updated Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Check the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for up-to-date, reliable information about coronavirus.


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