Beginning in december 2019, a novel virus has been spreading all over the globe. Its origins are still unclear, many point out a wildlife market in Wuhan to be ground zero. Indeed, scientists have found almost identical virus strains in bats and pangolins. In many countries, wildlife markets are significant hazard factors for novel illnesses to arise. Unlike factory farming, the health status of the bagged animals can not be fully controlled.
Not new, but stronger
Coronaviruses themselves are not just a single strain, but a big group of pathogens. Some of them stay symptom-free and therefore are not a hazard. Others may cause mild conditions like the common cold. But a few of them are potentially life-threatening.
One particular coronavirus has kept the global public in suspense 20 years ago: The pathogen which caused the SARS outbreak of 2003. Back then, 774 people worldwide have died from the lung disease. The new SARS-CoV-2 might be similar, but is way more contagious, as it adapted perfectly to its human host. In 2003, the doctors did not have any experience with the illness. No respirators have been worn. Instead, they used vaporizers, which have further spread the disease instead of containing it. Nevertheless, the disease reclined relatively quickly. COVID-19 is different: Despite our advanced knowledge, millions of people worldwide has been infected with the coronavirus. The numbers grow day by day.
Not just a harmless flu
The symptoms are particularly insidious. Mostly of them match the common flu - headaches, coughing, high temperature and a sore throat. Even a professional could not tell the symptoms apart. But the biggest difference has the potential to be deadly: Severe pneumonia is way more frequent in SARS-CoV-2 infections than they are in the flu. Besides that, some scientists assume that, even with a mild course of the disease, long-term effects like irreparable lung damage can be expected. That’s why many scientists are criticizing strategies aiming towards a herd immunity.
Many people are considering COVID-19 to be a disease which is only dangerous to older people. While statistically the risk of a deadly outcome rises with the age, it still means that many infected young people are in need of a hospital treatment. In no age group, the death rate is at zero. Also, the most crucial factor is not the age, but pre-existing conditions. On the one hand, there are severe illnesses like cancer. On the other hand, there are a variety of internal organ illnesses (liver, lungs, heart, kidneys), diabetes or high blood pressure. Even a weakened immune system is a major risk factor.
How is it spread?
COVID-19 is a droplet infection. The virus is bound to a small droplet, which is released into the air by coughing, sneezing or (as some newest studies suggest) even breathing. Many claim that simply touching a contaminated surface (like a door handle or a smartphone display) is enough to get sick. In fact, scientists have proven the virus to live as long as 3 days on steel or plastic. Nevertheless, not a single case has yet been reported which unambiguously links the infection to a surface contact.
How do I protect myself?
As there is no vaccine yet, we only have the regular means of disease prevention. For example a correct hand disinfection, wearing protection masks (FFP2 or FFP3) or social distancing.