The 10 most common questions on the coronavirus answered

A deadly new coronavirus is spreading across the globe, with at least 48 countries on six continents confirming cases as of Thursday. 

The new virus has infected more than 81,000 people and killed about 2,800 others since it was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. The vast majority of infections and deaths have occurred on mainland China, but the rapid spread of the virus has triggered worries world over.

Some governments have cut travel links or closed borders with affected countries, while nations hit by the virus have imposed lockdowns or shut schools and cancelled public gatherings in a bid to contain the epidemic.

As worries over the virus mount, we used Google Trends – the world’s largest repository of real-time search results – to find out what people want to know about the coronavirus.

Below are 10 of the most common questions and their answers. 

1. What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause illness in humans or animals.

In humans, they can cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

The new type of virus also attacks the respiratory system, causing a disease known as COVID-19. 

2. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, fatigue and dry cough. These symptoms are usually mild and develop gradually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease is mild in more than 80 percent of cases.

Some 14 percent develop severe disease, including pneumonia and difficulty breathing, while about 5 percent have critical disease, including respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure. 

Read more on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 here

3. Is the new coronavirus deadly?

Yes, the illness is fatal in 2 percent of cases, WHO said on February 17, citing a paper published by China with detailed data on more than 44,000 confirmed cases.

Those most at risk are the elderly or patients with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. 

Read more on what the new coronavirus does if you catch it here

4. Is coronavirus contagious?

Yes, the new virus can spread from human to human. 

5. How does coronavirus spread?

The disease mainly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or exhales. It can also be transmitted via contaminated surfaces. 

6. How long do coronaviruses live on surfaces?

It is not clear how long the new coronavirus survives on surfaces, but the WHO says it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. The agency says coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, can persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. 

7. Can humans get the new coronavirus from cats and dogs?


8. How do you treat the new coronavirus?

There is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. Those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms and most patients recover due to supportive care. 

Read more on the effort to develop a vaccine for the new virus here

9. Are bats the animal source of coronavirus?

The possible animal source of COVID-19 has not yet been confirmed. 

Some scientists suspect the new virus passed to humans via pangolins, but this theory is yet to be proven. 

10. What is MERS coronavirus?

MERS is a respiratory disease caused by a type of coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19. The disease first emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and it is thought the animal source of the infection is dromedary camel. 

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. 

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