Coronavirus: Here’s why it matters, and how it could affect you

As of March 5, the novel coronavirus had caused the deaths of 12 individuals in the United States, more than 3,000 people globally, with another 94,000 individuals infected.

Those numbers may seem small compared to the number of deaths attributed to other health concerns such as influenza, which accounted for 34,157 deaths during the 2018-2019 season, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.

If the flu impacts so many more people each year and has caused more deaths than the coronavirus, why has this new ailment received such significant attention from health and government officials? 

Here is why you should care about COVID-19:

Unlike the seasonal flu, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), is a newly developed condition. That means there currently is not a vaccine or a treatment for the coronavirus and there isn’t projected to be one for at least a year.

That means that it is difficult to treat those who have been infected with the virus, as well as prevent the spread of new infections. Someone who has received a vaccine for the seasonal flu may not contract that illness. For the coronavirus, though, there are measures that can help against contracting it, such as wearing a face mask and vigorously washing one’s hands, but nothing (so far) that can completely prevent becoming infected.

This is troublesome, because coronavirus symptoms are similar to those of the flu, and may not appear for 2-14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. For example, a person may not be aware that they were exposed to an individual who has the virus, and could develop a fever a few days afterwards, thinking that they caught the seasonal flu or some other condition.

In that time, that newly infected coronavirus patient could spread the illness to even more people. This is why so many major events and festivals are being cancelled, and why many companies are implementing work-from-home policies amid the viral outbreak. 

And since anyone is susceptible to the virus — old, young, rich, poor, healthy and unhealthy alike — anyone could become infected, even if there isn’t a large amount of cases where they live. As of March 5, most of the reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. were located in Washington and California. Even though a large number of mountain and Midwest states have reported no cases as of yet, a person infected with the virus would just need to travel from Washington to one of those states for it to potentially spread. 

And since it can take 2-14 days for symptoms to show, people may not know that they are infected and continue to spread the viral infection. While health officials have worked to quarantine certain outbreak areas and have provided guidelines to individuals who are infected or at risk of becoming infected, it is difficult to prevent the spread of a virus when symptoms don’t immediately show.

Although the virus is serious and poses a significant threat, there are individuals who have recovered from it. According to John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), as of March 5, 53,798 individuals had recovered from the coronavirus across the globe. Those who have wished to increase their prevention efforts have done so through means such as avoiding shaking hands, wearing face masks, vigorously washing their own hands, working remotely and not traveling frequently or at all. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.