The coronavirus outbreak has upended our daily routines and affected the way millions of Americans currently eat, shop, travel, and do business. Online searches related to the virus, its spread, and symptoms are numbering in the billions as users around the world try to understand the threat coronavirus poses and what to expect next. Amidst all the uncertainty, it may be helpful to better understand the roots of the coronavirus and where it derives its peculiar name, as well as why it is often referred to by two names: coronavirus and COVID-19.
The coronavirus that is dominating headlines today is a member of a large family of viruses named after the way that they look. Coronaviruses are characterized by small pointy spikes that give them the appearance of a corona, which is the Latin word for crown. These types of viruses are common in animals but rarely infect humans. There are many different types of coronaviruses, and some cause only colds or mild respiratory illnesses. Others, like SARS and MERS, have had a more significant impact on humans and can cause severe disease.
The current coronavirus disease and the virus that causes it actually have two different names. This is quite common in medicine, as viruses are named for their genetic structures and diseases are named so that healthcare professionals and the general public can discuss prevention, treatment and other details related to the spread of the illness. Officially, the disease can be referred to as either coronavirus disease or the abbreviated COVID-19 which incorporates the year the virus was first identified (2019). The name of the virus which causes the disease is SARS-CoV-2, which is short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
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COVID-19 was first detected in China but has since spread through person-to-person contact infecting other parts of the world including the United States. These person-to-person transmissions typically happen between close contact, about 6 feet or closer. Like many other viruses, coronavirus is typically spread through respiratory droplets that are produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These germs can then land in the mouth or nose of another nearby person and be inhaled into the lungs.
Social distancing, or intentionally distancing oneself from people for a period of time in order to slow the spread of the virus, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to slow the spread of coronavirus. As more cases are expected in the United States, it is important to heed the warnings of the CDC and other healthcare professionals. Already, many Americans have begun working remotely from their homes. Schools are also exercising caution and switching to online classes in an effort to prevent large groups of students from gathering together during the height of the outbreak.
If you have plans to attend an event or travel, consider canceling or postponing in order to do your part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. And of course, if you are feeling sick for any reason, you should stay at home and avoid direct contact with others.
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.