Faculty of Medicine

10 facts about the coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) is confirmed as pandemic by WHO, 11. march. To what extent should we fear the coronavirus? We have asked virus expert Professor Rebecca Cox.

Coronavirus COVID-19
The coronavirus has emerged in Norway for the first time.
creativeneko/Shutterstock/NTB Scanpix

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1. What is coronavirus?

– Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with 4 human viruses causing mild colds in all age groups. The virus looks like it has a crown, hence the name. The family also includes viruses from animals that can infect humans in a process called zoonosis. This form of infection has caused severe pneumonia and death, such as the new virus corona virus (COVID-19). Previously, we have seen similar disease with the Severe Acute Respiratory Virus (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Virus (SARS) viruses. COVID-19 began in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei region of China but there is currently local spread in other countries including South Korea, Iran & Italy. Isolated cases who have been infected abroad have been imported to other countries including Norway and other Nordic countries.

2. How does coronavirus infect?

– The original new coronavirus infection probably came from an animal and infected humans. Now it infects people through sneezing and coughing, but also through contact with virus-contaminated surfaces.

3. What are the symptoms?

– Common symptoms are respiratory symptoms with fever, fatigue, cough and very rapid or laboured breathing. Severe symptoms may include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, renal failure and death.

4. What should you be aware of if you are afraid of getting infected?

– It is an acute infection with common cold symptoms. If you have been in contact with someone who may be infected, you should contact the health care system and ask for advice if you suspect infection and especially if you have rapid or laboured breathing.

5. What precautions should you take if you are traveling or going to one of the countries where the virus has been detected?

– Avoid close contact with sick people with fever and respiratory symptoms. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand infection. Good cough and nose hygiene is also important, by covering your mouth and nose with paper towels or the elbow. Discard the handkerchief and wash your hands afterwards. Avoid close contact with animals and markets that sell animals and fresh produce. It is important food is sufficiently cooked or fried and follow good food hygiene.

6. Who dies of the new coronavirus?

– Approximately 14 percent of the infections are serious, and about 5 percent of cases are critical. Of the cases in Hubei approx. 2.3 percent have died of pneumonia but half of these are patients who have had critical illness and often are older patients with underlying disease. The mortality rates are lower in the rest of the world at 0.3 percent. Many patients who experience severe disease have Diabetes, pulmonary disease or other chronic diseases and in Hubei region approximately 4 percent of cases were in front line healthcare workers.

7. The coronavirus is detected in Norway. To what degree should we fear the coronavirus?

– So far, approximately 50 countries have reported infection and we have recently had the first case of an infected traveller coming to Norway. About 86 percent of cases cause mild respiratory tract infections. The virus is only dangerous if it spreads easily between people in Norway.

8. What is the definition of a pandemic?

– A pandemic is a major worldwide epidemic, where an infectious disease spreads in several parts of the world.

9. What is the risk of the new coronavirus causing a pandemic?

– Neither SARS nor MERS developed into pandemics, but we have seen the situation change rapidly with COVID-19 and the WHO has confirmed it as pandemic, 11. March. It has now status as a virus that spreads easily from person to person, across all regions around the world. 

10. Should you avoid traveling to the countries where the infection has been detected?

– There are no specific medicines or vaccines against the new coronavirus. Therefore, one should consider postponing travel to infected regions. As the situation is changing rapidly, it is best to keep up to date with the World Health Organization (WHO) Travel Advice and the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (Foreign Affairs) Travel Advice. 

Check how the virus has spread globally, here.