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Your Healthy Family: What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

Posted at 8:03 AM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-03 10:03:46-05

CLEVELAND, OHIO — In recent weeks, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has been spotted in several countries outside of China, where it first originated in December.

But what exactly is the Novel Coronavirus?

Many experts believe the virus came from an animal.

“This is a virus that likely did not circulate in humans before December, and, what we think has happened, is that it recently jumped from an animal to a human,” said Frank Esper, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “This actually happens from time to time. These viruses exist and circulate in animals, and somehow, through mutation, and close human-animal contact, they jump over and become a new human virus.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2019 Novel Coronavirus was slowly smoldering for several weeks in China, but has recently accelerated over the past two weeks.

Dr. Esper said experts are seeing more cases of the illness, likely because they are now aware of the virus and know how to test for it.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is identified by specific genetic ‘fingerprints.’

Testing for the virus is typically performed by sampling the nose or throat, or in some cases through the lungs or by a blood test.

Dr. Esper said health officials are watching the virus closely, and how it changes, since it’s new to humans.

The novel coronavirus is from a family of respiratory viruses that includes ‘SARS’ and ‘MERS.’

“Many of the new viruses that recently jumped from an animal to humans are much more aggressive and severe,” said Dr. Esper. “What we’re seeing thus far, is that this particular coronavirus can cause severe pneumonias, but not as often as MERS or SARS.”

Dr. Esper said scientists have been able to replicate, or ‘grow’ the Novel Coronavirus, and have sequenced its entire genome, as part of an effort to develop a vaccine. They are also testing anti-viral medications to help treat people who may become sick.