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Answers to your most common questions about the Wuhan coronavirus

Ryan Blethen, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- As a new type of coronavirus rages through China and spreads to other countries, including the United States, the public understandably has a lot of questions about the illness and how to avoid it.

As of late Monday afternoon, more than 2,700 people had been infected and 81 had died, with the vast majority of cases in China. Five people in the United States have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, including a Snohomish County man who fell ill after returning from a trip to Wuhan almost two weeks ago -- before China or the United States had implemented travel restrictions to stem the outbreak.

We've been asking you, our readers, what you want to know about the novel coronavirus, which is also being called the Wuhan coronavirus, and we're taking your questions to health care professionals. Below are answers to some common questions that have come in recently:

What is a coronavirus, and how does it spread?

Coronaviruses have the ability to mutate and jump from animal to human. The novel coronavirus is believed to have done that at an animal market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China.

It is now believed to be spreading from person to person, although it's unclear how easily. So far, that hasn't happened within the United States, according to public health officials. The risk is much greater in and around Wuhan, where the virus originated.


You may remember outbreaks of SARS and MERS in recent years. Those were also coronaviruses that spread from person to person, generally between close contacts.

"When person-to-person spread has occurred with MERS and SARS, it is thought to have happened mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread," according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Coronaviruses regularly circulate throughout the region and around the world, and this one probably acts similarly to those, said Dr. Robert L. Thompson, chair of Kaiser Permanente Washington's prevention and control program.

The new coronavirus has so far mostly affected people older than 60 and those with underlying health issues.


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