We sent your unanswered coronavirus questions to an expert — and we have answers

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WATCH: Your questions on the novel coronavirus answered – Jan 28, 2020

The word coronavirus has been on the lips of people all over the world ever since reports of this virus spreading all over China filled the news.

To date, the virus has killed more than 100 people, infected at least 4,500 people in other countries and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Many people have turned to social media in the hopes of getting answers to their coronavirus-related questions.

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Coronavirus outbreak: CDC says virus screenings in U.S. expanding to 20 airports – Jan 28, 2020

We gathered some of those top-asked questions and spoke with an expert with the hopes of providing some answers.

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Susy Hota is an infectious disease physician and medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto.

What is the origin of the coronavirus? 

Asked by: @r_jules_k

The origin of the coronavirus is not entirely known yet. It is believed to have originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China, and the belief is that the virus may have jumped from the animals to humans.

Wet markets are places animals both dead and alive are sold in close capacity.

“Coronaviruses often do originate from animals, and bats are known carriers of the virus,” Hota said. Efforts are still being made to pinpoint the exact origin, but experts say that this will take some time.”

Are you wondering what a wet market is? READ MORE

How is it transmitted? If I handle something that’s been handled by an infected person, can I catch it?

Asked by: @ColleenAllan6

The coronavirus is transmitted just like any other respiratory virus, and this is through droplet transmission.

“When you are sick with a viral infection, then usually the virus is present in secretions in the nose, mouth and lungs, so when you sneeze, large droplets of liquid will be released into the air, and this is how the virus is transmitted,” Hota said.

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Because these drops tend to be heavier, they do not travel farther than two metres. The virus can also be contracted if you touch a surface that has been contaminated, then touch your face or eyes.

What is the correct term for the coronavirus? 

Asked by: @Jane_Who

“This virus has a bit of an identity crisis,” Hota said.

The coronavirus refers to a whole family of viruses that can cause respiratory symptoms in both animals and humans. To date, there are seven known strains of coronavirus that can infect humans.

“Two of them can cause more serious disease and these are the SARS and MERS virus,” Hota said. The others cause symptoms more commonly associated with the common cold.

These viruses do affect Canadians every year during cold season. “This virus needs its own name, and that is being worked on,” Hota said.

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What measures are being taken by Canadian health authorities to deal with this threat to Canadians?

Asked by: @Norman Rockwell

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Public Health is monitoring the situation very closely, and their main approach is following up on people who are sick with this type of virus.

To date, there are two people in Canada who are known to have it, so the organization is working on reaching out to people the infected carriers may have come into contact with.

“It also comes down to fairly basic stuff like hand washing frequently, avoid touching surfaces in public areas, and avoid touching your face,” Hota said.

Hota also recommends staying home if you feel unwell and coughing into your sleeve.

Health authorities are also looking at implementing travel bans to areas where outbreaks are active.

READ MORE: Health officials urge Canadians to get coronavirus information from credible sources

Should travel be avoided?

Asked by: @SarahChristine

You should use your discretion when planning future travel, and avoid areas that are experiencing an outbreak.

The Canadian government has recently increased its travel advisories. Hota recommends visiting the Government of Canada’s website and viewing their most up-to-date travel advisories.

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The site was updated Monday and recommends avoiding all travel to China’s Hubei province, which is where the virus originated from.

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Passengers react to precautions at Toronto Pearson International Airport over coronavirus – Jan 27, 2020

 Is there any scientific evidence of the coronavirus’s hibernation period? How soon after being infected do people show symptoms?

Asked by: @AndrewChow

What this is referring to is the virus’s incubation period. This is the time between when you are exposed to a virus and when you begin to display symptoms.

“All the information we have has shown this period is one-to-14 days, with a majority of the people getting physically sick between the three-and-six-day range,” Hota says.

There have been cases reported of people being asymptomatic until the 14-day mark. There are cases where people who have been infected but not showing symptoms are causing transmission to others.

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“In infectious diseases, we use symptom onset, which refers to symptoms being physically present, as being when they can infect others,” Hota said.

Are face masks and hand washing effective? 

Asked by: @chelseygoller

Just like any other virus, it is good to practice good hygiene.

Hota says in order to prevent the spread of the virus, you should wash your hands often, especially when using public transit or touching surfaces that may be contaminated.

Preventative measures such as coughing into your sleeve and staying home if you are feeling unwell will also be effective. Hota says there is no need to wear face masks, and there is currently no evidence that wearing the face masks will prevent the spreading of the virus. 

“The mask is most effective when put on a person who is sick,” Ronald St. John said. “It traps the particles, so when they sneeze, the particles do not spread.”

St. John has worked in the field of public health for more than 40 years and specializes in international infectious disease control.

Ordinary face masks will not be effective, as they have openings that will allow the virus to escape. The most effective masks to block this virus are the N95 masks.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: How to protect yourself

What exactly are the symptoms of this? And when should you go to the hospital?

Asked by: @Selina Witte

The CDC lists the symptoms as:

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • fever
  • general feeling of being unwell

In more extreme cases, coronavirus can cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

These extreme cases are most commonly found in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults.

If you display these symptoms or have recently been in contact with someone with the coronavirus, you should seek medical attention.

“It is very important to inform your health-care provider if you have travelled outside the country and you do get ill,” St. John said.

How long can the virus live on surfaces and materials? Should we be worried about mail from China?

Asked by: @Shaylene Blomme

There is no exact answer as it can depend on what the material of the surface is. “It could be hours, or it could be days, depending on what we are dealing with,” Hota said.

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It is important that high-touch surfaces such as handrails and countertops are cleaned regularly.

“It is highly unlikely that a virus will survive the entire time it would take to ship from China to Canada,” Hota says.

It is also recommended to implement bacteria-fighting measures when handling items like mail or money, which could possibly be contaminated.

“Wash your hands very frequently before you eat, or blow your nose, those are the important measures to keep in mind,” Hota says.

Is there a vaccine for the coronavirus?

Asked by: @fadi_q_

“There are a few groups working on vaccine development,” Hota said.

One main barrier to vaccine development is that it does take time. Once the vaccine has been developed, it needs to be trialed to ensure it is effective, and this process could take months.

There are several parties that are working tirelessly to ensure a vaccine does get out as quickly as possible, but health officials are not expecting this is a measure that will be available very soon.

READ MORE: Global effort to find coronavirus vaccine is underway ⁠— here’s what we know

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The coronavirus seems far more widespread & deadly than is being reported, it this a fair assessment?

Asked by: @Rebel_I3uddha

It is very important to gather information from credible sources. Hota recommends sites like the World Health Organization to get a better sense of what is happening outside of Canada.

“It is possible that it is worse than what we are seeing because it does take time to play catch up with the numbers,” Hota says.

People on the front lines are so busy preventing the spread of the virus that reporting requirements may not be met.

Since many of these symptoms also mirror the common cold, we also have to take into account that many less symptomatic people may not be seeking medical attention.

With the first case of person-to-person spreading taking place in Germany, St. John says that could result in multiple outbreaks in multiple countries.

The risk in Canada still remains low.

READ MORE: Coronavirus risk remains low in Canada despite first presumptive case: health officials

Click to play video: 'Health minister says risk of novel coronavirus infection remains low in Canada' Health minister says risk of novel coronavirus infection remains low in Canada
Health minister says risk of novel coronavirus infection remains low in Canada – Jan 27, 2020

Since the symptoms are so identical to the flu, is testing the only way to know you’ve got it?

Asked by: @hollyhollypop

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Many people who are experiencing symptoms are seeking medical help immediately. One benefit that we have now vs. the 2003 SARS scare is rapid access to diagnostics.

“We are making sure that people who may have been exposed, and then becoming sick with symptoms, are seeking medical attention and reporting it immediately so we can try to contain it,” Hota said.

Health-care professionals are also ordering diagnostics to differentiate symptoms from other respiratory viruses that are seen this time of year.

“If you are feeling short of breath, and feeling unwell, yes, you should be going to the hospital,” Hota said.

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