Coronavirus: Symptoms, testing and how to prepare amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

As worries over the ever-expanding COVID-19 virus multiply, a growing list of nations are bracing for the illness to breach their borders. 

Health officials point to an increasingly likely possibility of the virus spreading widely in the United States,. Here is everything you should know in order to prepare for the deadly coronavirus:

RELATED: Coronavirus likely to spread in U.S., become a global pandemic, CDC says

What is a novel coronavirus? 

According to the CDC, coronaviruses come from a large family of viruses. There are actually a variety of previously-known human coronaviruses. But the strain of the virus that has now infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide is new. 

The newly identified COVID-19 virus refers to the novel coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China. This virus is different from the previously identified coronavirus 229E, NL63, OC43, or HKU1 which have been known to circulate among humans, causing mild illness likened to the common cold. 

A strain of the virus previously thought to only infect animals is now spreading among people. The CDC said the first infections were associated with live animal markets in China, but the virus is now spreading person-to-person globally. 

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FILE - Protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, DC. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

 

How long does it take for symptoms to appear? 

Symptoms for the COVID-19 virus could appear in as few as two days, or as long as 14 days after exposure, according the CDC.

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and a fever, to severe and even fatal respiratory distress.

How easy is it to get infected? 

The novel coronavirus strain responsible for the recent deadly global outbreak is more contagious than SARS and MERS, according to a new study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed data from over 72,000 confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 and found that the novel coronavirus is more contagious than the related viruses which cause SARS and MERS.

While COVID-19 spreads more easily, it has not yet proven to be as deadly as its related coronavirus strains. Of the 44,672 confirmed cases examined, the Chinese CDC said there were 1,023 deaths, which is a mortality rate of 2.3 percent. The 2003 SARS outbreak had a mortality rate of 14 to 15 percent, while MERS had a case fatality of 35 percent, according to the World Health Organization. The number of COVID-19 related fatalities has already surpassed the number of people who died from SARS and MERS because of how rapidly the infection spreads.

RELATED: COVID-19 more contagious than SARS or MERS, can live on surfaces for up to 9 days, studies say

COVID-19 is known to spread mainly from person-to-person contact through sneezing and coughing, but a separate study published in The Journal of Hospital Infection found that the virus may be able to live on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days. 

The World Health Organization has advised people to wash their hands and stop using cash if possible as the paper bills may help spread coronavirus.

While the CDC says that the efficiency of virus spread varies on a case-by-case basis, it first appeared that the COVID-19 virus was “spreading easily and sustainably in Hubei province and other parts of China.”

The virus then began to manifest in other parts of the world, triggering community spread in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran, among other countries.

Community spread of the novel coronavirus has also begun in the United States. An outbreak in Washington state, centered in a long-term health care facility, sickened dozens and brought on the first reported deaths from the virus in the U.S.

Can I get tested for the novel coronavirus?

The CDC hit an early snag in testing after it shipped about 200 kits to laboratories in the United States and roughly 200 more to labs in more than 30 other countries. Each kit was meant to be able to test about 700 to 800 specimens from patients, the agency said.

But on Feb. 26, the CDC announced that many laboratories in the U.S. reported that the test kits they received were not “working as expected.” 

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FILE -A lab technician in Greece is checking samples for coronavirus. (Photo by Maria Chourdari/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In a press briefing, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that when various state laboratories performed quality control tests on the kits, the labs “identified some inconclusive results.”

The CDC said it had initially focused its criteria for U.S. testing on contacts of a small amount of patients who have travel history associated with where the outbreak of the virus has occurred. That has since changed and wider testing is being performed across the country.

RELATED: US testing capacity for coronavirus delayed amid ‘inconclusive’ results from kits distributed by CDC

What precautions can you take?

The CDC warns that there is currently no vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus, but there are some steps you can take to avoid being exposed to the virus in the first place. 

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipes.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

What should you do if you are sick? 

Stay home. If you believe you have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, it is crucial that you restrict any activity outside and call a medical professional immediately. 

It is important to call ahead before visiting a health care provider so that their office may take proper steps to avoid further spread of the virus when arriving for your medical appointment. 

How widespread is the disease? 

The CDC warned the American public to prepare for an potentially widespread outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has spawned more than 90,000 cases of COVID-19 around the world.

The count of new cases and deaths in the United States has begun to climb after it was revealed by an outbreak in Washington state that the virus has likely been spreading on American soil for weeks undetected.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported in Los Angeles.