Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Source: Richard T. Nowitz / Getty

Experts at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offered some updates on the coronavirus and things people can do now.

How infectious is this coronavirus?  It’s pretty good at spreading from person to person, better than some other coronaviruses including MERS and SARS. So there are more infections, but unlike those others it mostly causes mild illness. Those with serious symptoms of the disease named COVID-19, such as trouble breathing and fever, are more likely to seek care, though those with mild disease are still infectious.

How is the virus transmitted from person to person?  The culprits are the rather large droplets that people cough or sneeze through the air to people or common surfaces. This is why it’s important to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and avoid touching your face and stay three to six feet away from others.

How long can the virus live on surfaces and how can you kill it? It can live on surfaces, such as railings and tables and phones for a few hours to up to 24 hours. But the virus is sensitive to antimicrobial cleaners. Use cleaners that are marked antimicrobial or dilute bleach with water at a 1 to 10 ratio and wipe. If you don’t have those, use rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet.

Will we get a respite when it gets warm? The short answer is no one knows. Other viruses, such as flu viruses, are way less efficient at spreading in the summer. But since this is a new virus and no one has immunity, it still could infect people. That’s what happened during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak.

Is a vaccine coming? The first vaccine trial in humans began this week. A trial for a second vaccine will begin soon. These are early stage trials, however, only testing the vaccine’s safety and not its effectiveness. This is amazing speed, since the virus was only genetically mapped in the past two months, but that doesn’t mean people will be inoculated widely any time soon. The vaccines will need to be tested to see if they work against the virus in later-stage trials. An effective vaccine is still likely 12 to 18 months away.

What is “social distancing”? This is putting physical space between people so the virus has a harder time transmitting through those droplets. Spread control also means a lot of hand washing — particularly after returning from outside or before eating — avoiding high touch surfaces, such as grocery carts that are not wiped down, and staying home, especially when sick.



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