“The Coronavirus” has become a household phrase over the past couple of months, as COVID-19, the disease currently spreading across the globe—although mostly in mainland China—continues to cause panic, sickness, and, in very rare cases, death. But even though COVID-19 is constantly in the news, there are a few key facts that seem to be lost in the broad internet conversation. Here are nine of those facts, which will hopefully help to protect you from the metaphorical disease of misinformation.
1. It’s Not Actually Called “The Coronavirus”
“The coronavirus” that’s currently spreading is actually called “Coronavirus disease 2019,” or COVID-19, and is caused by the “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2. I.e. SARS-CoV-2 is the RNA virus that causes COVID-19, the infectious disease that can cause an acute respiratory infection, and in more rare cases, may result in pneumonia, ARDS, kidney failure, or death.
2. Bats and Pangolins Are the Likely Culprits
There is substantial evidence that COVID-19 originated in bats and then spread to humans via pangolins, although epidemiologists are still not certain this is the case. According to DW Akademie, “Researchers from the South China Agricultural University have found that a genetic sequence of the virus from pangolins is 99% identical to the coronavirus currently infecting… people.” Pangolins also happen to be the most illegally traded animal in the world. (They are traded because their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and they are also eaten as a luxury food.)
A giant ground pangolin.
3. SARS, MERS, and Some Viruses that Cause the Common Cold Are All Coronaviruses
SARS-CoV-2 is only one type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses make up a family of viruses (the family name is Coronaviridae) that cause disease in mammals and birds. SARS, MERS, and even roughly 15% of the viruses that cause the common cold, are all coronaviruses.
4. COVID-19 Is an Example of a “Spillover Event”
A spillover event, which is also referred to as a spillover infection, or pathogen spillover, occurs when a “reservoir population” infected with a particular pathogen comes into contact with a new host population. In this case, the reservoir population is likely the trafficked pangolins, the pathogen is COVID-19, and the novel host population is humans.
5. Coronaviruses Look Like They Have Crowns
SARS-CoV-2, as well as the other viruses belonging to its family, have earned their name thanks to their appearance. Under an electron microscope, coronaviruses look like they have little crowns thanks to their having “spike proteins”—which are used as the viruses’ mechanism for host cell entry—on their outer surface. The term corona is derived from the eponymous Latin word for crown.
A transmission electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2
6. N95 Respirators Can Provide Protection
Regular surgical masks probably won’t do much to protect you from COVID-19, or any other coronavirus-related disease for that matter. But a more effective mask, known as a N95 respirator, could help to move the needle. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), N95 respirators are able to block “at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron)… particles.” Still, the FDA warns that, even if fitted properly, an N95 respirator cannot fully eliminate the risk of infection.
7. Sneezing into Your Elbow Is Best
If you need to sneeze but are unable to find a tissue or something similar, the most hygienic thing you can do is sneeze into your flexed arm. According to UPCM Healthbeat, the best way to cover up a sneeze (if a tissue isn’t available) is to sneeze ” into the crook of your elbow.” MythBusters also performed a non-scientific test to find out which sneeze-covering method is best, and found that sneezing into one’s elbow is optimal. The CDC says you should “sneeze into your upper sleeve.”
8. There Are 16 Confirmed Cases in the U.S. So Far
Update: This number is increasing daily. Check the CDC for the most up-to-date information.
As of March 2, 2020, the CDC says there 16 confirmed cases of people infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., although there are also 27 presumptive positive cases. There are also three confirmed cases among persons repatriated from Wuhan, and 45 confirmed cases among passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
Animated map of confirmed COVID-19 cases spreading from 12 January to 25 February 2020
9. COVID-19 Has a 2.3% Death Rate, but Mainly Affects the Elderly
Update: this number is changing regularly as more people receive tests.
If you do somehow become infected with COVID-19, your odds of dying from it are about 2.3%. Although that figure is somewhat misleading, as the overwhelming amount of deaths have occurred in the elderly population. According to a paper by the Chinese CCDC released on February 17 and published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology (via worldometer), the death rate of COVID-19 is 14% amongst those 80 years old and older, 8% amongst those 70-79, 3.6% amongst those 60-69, and 1.3% amongst those 50-59. For all other age ranges, the odds of death are less than .5%.
What do you think about these COVID-19 facts? Do you feel better protected against “coronavirus” misinformation now, or is everything here already old news for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.