NHK's experts answer various questions from people about the new coronavirus.
Q: What is the coronavirus?
A: The coronavirus is a virus that infects humans and other animals. Generally, it spreads among people and causes symptoms similar to those of a common cold, such as coughing, fever and runny nose. Some types such as the one that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, which was first confirmed in Saudi Arabia in 2012, can lead to pneumonia or other serious problems.
The coronavirus that has caused the global pandemic is a new strain. Infected people develop symptoms such as fever, coughs, fatigue, phlegm, shortness of breath, sore throats and headaches. About 80 percent of patients recover after experiencing light symptoms. Nearly 20 percent develop serious conditions such as pneumonia or even multiple organ failure. People who are over the age of 60, or who have underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses or cancer are more likely to develop serious conditions or die. Few infections have been reported among children and their symptoms are relatively light.
Q: How do we get infected? How can we prevent being infected?
A: Experts believe the new coronavirus is transmitted by droplets or contact with a contaminated surface, just like with seasonal flu or the common cold. This means the virus spreads via droplets produced when infected people cough or sneeze. One can also get infected by touching contaminated doorknobs or hanging straps of train cars and then touching their nose or mouth with the contaminated hand. The coronavirus is believed to have about the same degree of infectiousness as seasonal flu.
The basic measures for the prevention of coronavirus infection are the same as the ones against seasonal flu -- that is, to wash hands and to practice cough etiquette.
When washing hands, one is advised to use soap and wash every part of the hands up to the wrists with running water for at least 20 seconds. Or, one can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cough etiquette is an important means to control the spread of infection. One is advised to cover the nose and mouth with tissue paper or a sleeve to prevent spraying others with contaminated droplets. Other effective measures include avoiding crowded places, and when staying indoors, opening windows often to keep the room ventilated.
In Japan, each railway company is to decide whether to open the windows of packed passenger cars. Experts say the cars are already ventilated to a certain degree because the doors will open when they stop at stations and passengers get on or off.
Q: What are the symptoms one will likely develop when infected?
A: There is a report on this issue published by a joint team of experts including those from the World Health Organization. The team conducted a detailed analysis on symptoms of 55,924 individuals who were confirmed to have been infected in China by February 20.
The report says 87.9 percent of the patients had fevers, 67.7 percent were coughing, 38.1 percent complained of tiredness, and 33.4 percent had phlegm. Other symptoms included shortness of breath, sore throat and headache.
Those who were infected developed the symptoms in five to six days on average.
About 80 percent of the infected had relatively mild symptoms. Some did not develop pneumonia. Of all the infected people, 13.8 percent became seriously ill and had difficulty breathing.
People 60 years of age or older and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, chronic respiratory illnesses and cancer were more likely to develop serious or fatal symptoms. There were few reports of children getting infected or becoming seriously ill. Only 2.4 percent of the total number of infected were 18 years old or younger.
Dr. Satoshi Kutsuna of National Center for Global Health and Medicine has treated patients who tested positive for the virus in Japan. Kutsuna said the patients he saw had runny noses, sore throats and coughs. He said they all had tiredness and fevers of 37 degrees or higher that lasted for about a week.
The doctor said some people developed higher fevers after a week. He said the symptoms tend to last longer than in cases of seasonal flu or other viral infectious diseases. The data presented here are as of March 19.
Q: How can we disinfect our clothes? Will laundering wash away the virus? Should we use alcohol disinfectants on our clothes?
A: Erisa Sugawara of the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control says there's no need to use alcohol disinfectants on clothes. She explains that most viruses get washed away from clothes through regular washing procedures, though this has yet to be proven with the new coronavirus.
As for items you feel are especially at risk of contamination from the virus, such as a handkerchief that has been used to cover the mouth during coughing or sneezing, Sugawara recommends soaking it in boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Q: What should pregnant women be careful about?
A: In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the Japan Society for Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology released a document offering advice to expectant mothers and women hoping to get pregnant.
The society says there has so far been no information that pregnant women are more likely to have severe symptoms from the coronavirus, or reports of the virus causing problems in unborn babies.
But the society warns that, in general, pregnant women can become seriously ill if they develop pneumonia.
The society advises pregnant women to take precautions such as thoroughly washing their hands with soap and running water, especially after going outside and before meals, and using alcohol-based disinfectants.
Other recommended precautions include avoiding contact with people with fevers and coughs, wearing protective masks and avoiding touching your nose and mouth with your hands.
Nihon University School of Medicine Professor Satoshi Hayakawa, who drew up the document, says he understands pregnant women feeling anxious. But he urges the women to act based on reliable and accurate information because all kinds of misinformation are circulated during infectious disease outbreaks.