What began as a handful of mysterious pneumonia-like illnesses in Wuhan, China, has spread across the globe, with more than 100,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, confirmed worldwide and more than 3,400 deaths reported.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of registered antimicrobial products that kill COVID-19, including certain brands of bleach, peroxide, multi-surface cleaners, and germicidal sprays. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District opened a COVID-19 hotline to answer residents’ questions about the virus and preventing its spread.

Here’s what we know about COVID-19 and what basic steps you can take to protect against it.

What kind of disease is this?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses common in animals of all kinds, and some can evolve into forms that can infect humans.

The virus is named for the crownlike spikes on its surface – “corona” is Latin for crown.

COVID-19 is only the third strain of coronavirus known to frequently cause severe symptoms in humans. The other two are Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

How does it spread?

Researchers are still trying to understand how COVID-19 spreads between humans. It’s likely to be transmitted in droplets from coughing or sneezing, and has a two- to 14-day incubation period, meaning people could be infectious for a while before symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, or fever emerge.

What are the symptoms? What does the illness feel like?

The virus causes fever as well as respiratory symptoms: dry cough and/or difficulty breathing. It also can cause diarrhea and body aches. In severe cases, symptoms include pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death, according to the World Health Organization.

Who should be tested for COVID-19?

As national rates of infection continue to climb, criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now call for any American to be tested subject to doctor’s orders. However, supplies are limited. The CDC on Monday said it distributed 75,000 test kits throughout the U.S., 75 of which were sent to San Antonio.

San Antonio’s Metro Health asks that any resident feeling sick call their primary care physician or an urgent care or walk-in clinic in advance before going in. Local testing for COVID-19 is currently available only by sending samples to the CDC, in coordination with Metro Health.

Last week, the Trump administration designated the new test as an essential health benefit, saying Medicaid and Medicare plans would cover the cost of the screening. Under the Affordable Care Act, large-employer health plans must cover the cost of essential health benefits, such as preventive testing. But the administration’s designation does not require plans to provide the tests to patients free of charge.

People who do not have CDC-defined symptoms and exposure history will not be offered testing.

Who is at risk of becoming infected?

Much of what public health experts know about this virus comes from China, where the number of cases now tops 80,000.

There, children and younger people seem only mildly affected by the virus. A report from China described nine hospitalized children younger than 1 year old and found that none required intensive care or had any severe complications.

Most confirmed cases were among people age 30 to 79, and nearly 81 percent of all illnesses were considered mild.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found 2.3 percent of confirmed cases resulted in death, but the fatality rate was nearly 15 percent in people 80 or older, likely reflecting the presence of other diseases, a weaker immune system, or simply worse overall health. By contrast, the fatality rate was 1.3 percent in 50-year-olds, 0.4 percent in 40-year-olds, and 0.2 percent in people age 10 to 39.

Where is it in the U.S.?

New York1420
New Jersey110
Illinois 70
Pennsylvania7 0
South Carolina60
New Hampshire20
Rhode Island30
North Carolina20
District of Columbia10

While the CDC says Americans most at risk for contracting the virus are those who recently visited Wuhan, China, many U.S. patients were diagnosed without any history of overseas travel, signaling that the illness is circulating within the United States and that people are being exposed in schools, offices and medical facilities, despite the risk being considered low in those environments.

What treatments are recommended for this virus?

There are no virus-specific treatments for COVID-19. The CDC recommends supportive care to manage and relieve symptoms. Researchers are testing existing antiviral drugs to see if they have an impact on the novel coronavirus. Currently, there is no approved vaccine available for this virus.

But National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci told U.S. senators last week “it will take at least a year and a half to have a vaccine we can use.”

What is being done to contain the spread and outbreak?

Global efforts at this time are focused concurrently on containing the spread and mitigating the impact of this virus. The CDC established a COVID-19 Incident Management System on Jan. 7. On Jan. 21, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the COVID-19 response.

The CDC says anyone can help prevent the spread of coronavirus, including using hand sanitizer, frequently washing hands, washing hand towels, avoiding touching your face, disinfecting common surfaces, and cleaning phones.

Where can I get the latest information?

The Rivard Report will continue to report on the outbreak. Metro Health has added a COVID-19 health alerts page to its website. The CDC is maintaining a traveler’s health notice. The World Health Organization has a website for outbreak news. The China Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an epidemic tracker.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.