On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, as cases have spiked around the world in the last two weeks outside of China, where the novel coronavirus originated. As of publication, WHO has documented 125,288 confirmed cases of the disease globally, and the spread of the disease has had serious impacts in the hardest-hit countries like Iran and Italy.
As in any situation, knowledge is power. In the interest of empowering people to respond to this pandemic, Teen Vogue has collected information from medical and public health authorities to explain some fundamental facts about coronavirus, COVID-19, and how the duo of virus and disease is spreading.
What are coronaviruses and how is this one different?
According to WHO, coronaviruses (also known as CoV in medical jargon) are a family of viruses that includes other notable examples like the virus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). They’re named for the Spanish word for “crown” because of the crown-like spikes all over their surface. While it has become common parlance to call the current outbreaks as caused by “coronavirus,” this is, technically speaking, like using the term “dog” to describe a pitbull; just as there are other forms of dogs than pitbulls, there are other forms of coronavirus than the one currently causing crises.
What makes this coronavirus different is that it’s what medical experts call novel. As explained by WHO, this means this strain of virus has never been identified in humans before, meaning there is no existing knowledge on how to control this specific strain’s spread. Efforts to find a broader coronavirus vaccine have already been underway for years, and now, the novel coronavirus outbreak has prompted a serious push for vaccine research as medical experts rush to understand how it spreads and how to stop it.
What is COVID-19?
As explained by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 (an abbreviation of Coronavirus disease 2019) is the name for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. In the same way that HIV is a virus and AIDs is the disease it causes, the novel coronavirus is a virus and COVID-19 is the disease it causes.
It’s believed that symptoms will start to appear within 14 days of infection. These symptoms include a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Severe complications can include pneumonia, organ failure, and death. Currently, WHO reports that roughly one in five people who contract the virus need hospitalization.
WHO data also indicates that, as of publication, 4,614 people have died of COVID-19. With 125,288 confirmed cases, that puts the death rate at around 3.3%. Despite that, the Associated Press reported on March 11 more than half of COVID-19 cases result in a recovery. For example, in China, where the bulk of global cases have been confirmed, more than 60,000 people had recovered out of more than 80,000 cases.