By now, you’ve probably read a headline or two about coronavirus and how the first case appeared in the United States earlier this week.
The virus has been circulating around Wuhan, China, for about a month now, infecting several hundred people and killing at least 17, according to the latest figures shared by Chinese health officials on Wednesday.
Infectious disease experts say we don’t need to panic. Though health officials are still learning about the virus.
That said, it’s good to be armed with information. Here’s what we know about coronavirus so far:
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus refers to a group of viruses known to cause respiratory infections. Some cases can be mild, whereas others involve more serious symptoms.
The vast majority of coronavirus strains are benign, according to William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. If you do contract coronavirus, it’s typically no worse than a cold.
Coronavirus can pass between humans
How easily this particular coronavirus passes from person to person seems to fall somewhere in between MERS and SARS.
“There is sufficient evidence to conclude that there is some human-to-human transmission. How much is uncertain at the present time, and of course, that will have a large determining factor on the seriousness of the public health problem,” Schaffner said.
It’s safe to presume that it’s transmitted through respiratory secretions or bodily fluids, which can be passed through something as simple as breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing. Researchers are still working to figure out how transmissible it is.
Here’s how to protect yourself
The best way to ward off any virus like this is to wash your hands frequently. You should also avoid people coughing and sneezing, get your flu shot (it’ll help you stay strong if you’re exposed to the flu), and sanitize a public surface you’ll be using for a few hours, like an airplane tray table or your desk.
If you’re traveling to China, Schaffner advises against visiting a live-animal market. Avoid contact with live animals on farms in rural areas and don’t eat meat sourced from strange animals — “because somewhere out there, there’s a source,” he said.