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Here Are 5 Of The Most Googled Coronavirus Questions, Answered

As backed by the CDC, WHO, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and a real-life doctor.

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading across the globe, and that means we've all got questions.

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As of March 11, the World Health Organization has characterized coronavirus as a pandemic — that means it's a global outbreak, or an epidemic (a sudden, unexpected increase of cases) that has spread over several countries. The first case of pneumonia of unknown cause was detected in Wuhan, China and reported to the WHO back in December. Since then, cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in 140 countries.

In a situation report from February, the WHO called coronavirus an 'infodemic,' because there has been "an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it."

It makes sense that as this novel disease continues to disrupt our lives, we have a lot of questions, and we turn to the internet for answers. So in an effort to help reduce misinformation, here are the five most googled coronavirus questions, answered (as backed by the Center for Disease Control, WHO, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and a real-life doctor).

1. What is coronavirus?

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What we've all been calling "the coronavirus" is a new strain of a group of viruses known as coronaviruses. This particular strain was discovered in humans in 2019, hence the official name of the illness that it causes, COVID-19, which is short for coronavirus disease 2019. Coronaviruses include viruses that cause some forms of the common cold and also severe respiratory illnesses like SARS and MERS.

As Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a provider and Regional Medical Director at One Medical, told BuzzFeed Video, the coronavirus “in essence, attaches to cells in our bodies, and it increases our mucus production. It’s often impacting our lower respiratory tract, and it can cause things like coughing and sneezing. It can cause us to get fevers. Some people with coronavirus also end up getting G.I. issues. They might get vomiting or feel nauseated. People with really severe symptoms can also get severe shortness of breath.”

2. What are symptoms of COVID-19 (the illness caused by the new coronavirus)?

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The CDC reports that COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Based on the incubation period (time between exposure and appearance of first symptoms) of MERS, the CDC believes these symptoms may appear anywhere between two and 14 days after exposure.

But symptoms do not manifest the same in everyone. Some people infected with coronavirus may exhibit no symptoms at all, while others may display mild or severe symptoms.

3. How does the coronavirus spread?

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The coronavirus spreads predominantly from person-to-person. It can spread through close contact or through respiratory droplets from infected coughs and sneezes. So if you are standing within 6 feet of an infected person, respiratory droplets can land in your mouth or nose or be inhaled.

These droplets can also land on hard surfaces and last anywhere from several hours to several days. This is why it is important to frequently wash your hands (for 20 seconds), avoid touching your face — especially your eyes, mouth, and nose — and stay home. As for soft surfaces, Dr. Bhuyan said that it is less common for coronavirus to live on clothing or carpets, “but,” she notes, “we’ve seen that before, too. That’s why it’s very important if you cough or sneeze, you do it into a Kleenex or you do it into the folds of your elbow.”

4. How does COVID-19 compare to the flu?

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The flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses, and their symptoms are very similar. In fact, Dr. Bhuyan said that “in 80% of cases, [coronavirus symptoms are] nearly indistinguishable from the flu.” But these two diseases are caused by different viruses. One of the biggest differences between the two is the lack of information and preventative measures available for coronavirus. For the flu, there are antiviral medications to treat symptoms and vaccines to prevent and reduce its severity.

As for why coronavirus is worse than the flu, Dr. Bhuyan explained that, “Because no humans have had coronavirus in the past, we have no immunity to coronavirus. Whereas, at least with the flu, we’ve got immunity built up from past flu seasons, and there’s a vaccine from the flu, so we’ve got immunity built up from the vaccine.” The death rate from the flu, at 0.1%, is much lower than the most recent estimates for the coronavirus, which vary from 1.4% to 3%.

For a point-by-point comparison, see this explanation by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

5. How deadly is COVID-19?

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The deadliness of the coronavirus depends on whether the case is mild, severe, or critical. People with mild cases can recover at home while more severe or critical cases require hospitalization.

On March 3, during opening remarks at a media briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that 3.4% of globally reported COVID-19 patients have died. However, it’s hard to confirm a mortality rate because it’s unknown how many people have been infected with coronavirus and not tested. So please don't over-interpret these numbers.

The mortality rate also changes when you break down cases by demographic. The most at-risk groups for the death are the eldery — generally those older than age 60 — and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. But Dr. Bhuyan informs BuzzFeedVideo that for those “under age 40, the death rate for coronavirus appears to be about 0.4%. So less than half of 1%.”

If you want to learn more, BuzzFeed News has compiled charts to break down who is most at risk of dying from the coronavirus. BuzzFeed News is also tracking how coronavirus is spreading (including the number of cases and deaths) across the world, across the United States, and how the US outbreak compares to those in other countries.

Given this, we all need to do our part to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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As always, wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (with your elbow or a tissue), and don’t touch your face. If you can’t wash your hands as often, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Just be sure it’s at least 60% alcohol.

Also important: stay home if you can. It is incredibly important to flatten the curve. Unfortunately, hospitals and healthcare resources cannot handle the number of cases they'd face if everyone gets infected at once. Staying home may not make coronavirus disappear, but it can help slow down the spread of the virus and help hospitals accommodate all patients as needed.

Another pro-tip? Virtually reach out to your doctor if you’re concerned — call, email or video-chat. As Dr. Bhuyan points out, “Oftentimes, there’s not a lot that we do to treat a flu or even the coronavirus, and it’s more important that you stay safe at home and recover.” So once again, stay home.

What matters now is that you take care of yourself and others. Don’t panic (or bulk-buy). If you're stuck at home, here are some things that may ease the boredom. On the other hand, if your income is being directly affected by coronavirus, here's some basic financial advice. While it's good to stay informed, feel free to unplug if you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

Above all, be sure to take care of your mental and your physical health as best as you can.

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