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A Common Virus
Coronaviruses are common viruses that can affect humans and animals. Coronaviruses are medium-sized enveloped positive-stranded RNA viruses whose name comes from their characteristic crown-like appearance in electron micrographs. Coronaviruses are widespread among birds and mammals, with bats being the largest host of various genotypes1. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s2. There are two genera of human coronaviruses: alpha coronaviruses and beta coronaviruses. The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus/MERS-CoV, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus/SARS-CoV are examples of beta coronaviruses. Human coronaviruses probably account for 5 to 10 percent of all acute upper respiratory tract infections in adults1.
Seasonally, coronaviruses are ubiquitous. In temperate climates, coronavirus respiratory infections occur primarily in the winter although sometimes these infections can peak in the fall or spring1.
How are coronaviruses spread?
Coronaviruses are spread via direct contact with infected secretions or large droplets1. Specifically, by coughing and sneezing; close contact such as touching or shaking hands; and by touching an object or a surface with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes prior to washing your hands2. Reinfection can be common as well1.
What symptoms do coronaviruses cause?
Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses. Symptoms may include a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, and a fever. However, coronaviruses have also been linked to more severe respiratory diseases. In fact, in older patients, coronaviruses are significant causes of “influenza-like” illnesses, acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, and pneumonia1.
In children, coronaviruses can be detected in middle ear effusions and have been identified as viral causes for acute otitis media or ear infections1.
How are coronaviruses diagnosed?
Rapid techniques such as reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunofluorescence antigen detection assays from nasopharyngeal samples can be used to detect coronaviruses. Furthermore, coronaviruses are difficult to replicate in tissue culture1.
It’s also important to tell your healthcare provider about any recent travel or contact with animals2.
What is the treatment for coronaviruses?
There are currently no treatments recommended for coronaviruses except for supportive care such as drinking plenty of fluids, rest, and taking fever-reducing medication2.
There have been several antivirals or other agents used especially during the SARS-CoV outbreak but the efficacy of these drugs has not been established1. Currently, there are no vaccines available as well2.
What is the prevention from coronaviruses?
It is recommended to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to avoid close contact with people who are sick2. It is important to also dispose of materials infected with nasal secretions. Several antiseptic/disinfectant solutions used commonly in hospitals and households including chloroxylenol, benzalkonium chloride, and cetrimide/chlorhexidine have been shown to be ineffective against coronaviruses1.
If you experience “cold-like” symptoms, you can help protect others by staying home while you are sick, avoiding close contact with others, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that may be contaminated2.