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Frequently Asked Questions

Please note, any information or advice offered here may be incomplete or may later be updated as more information becomes available. Check back often for updated information and links. For answers to more specific questions submitted by the community, click here

What is the novel coronavirus and what is COVID-19? Where did this virus come from?

What does COVID-19 cause? How do I know if I have COVID-19? What should I do if I think I have been exposed or infected?

How do I prevent infection with the novel coronavirus? Does wearing a mask help? Should I wear a mask on a plane?

What countries should I avoid traveling to?

Can I receive mail or packages from infected areas?

How long before symptoms appear? How long does the disease last? When is someone infectious?

I've heard UTHSC is researching SARS CoV-2. Can you tell me more?

What precautions are being taken to ensure safety when handling these viruses?

Where can I get more information?

Answers


What is the novel coronavirus and what is COVID-19? Where did this virus come from?

The technical name of the novel coronavirus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV-2). The viral pneumonia it causes is known as COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease in 2019. This particular strain of the virus emerged from animals, likely from a seafood market in Wuhan China, and is now spreading throughout the world in humans. The virus is closely related to, but different than SARS, and likely also was originally a bat coronavirus. Coronaviruses are small viruses that are common throughout the animal kingdom including in humans and were named for the spikes on their surface that resemble a crown – corona is derived from the Latin name for a crown.

What does COVID-19 cause? How do I know if I have COVID-19? What should I do if I think I have been exposed or infected?

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be very severe or may cause no symptoms at all. Many patients experience fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Typical signs of a “cold,” e.g., runny nose, sore throat, and congestion, are not usually present. In severe cases, the disease leads to problems breathing, requiring hospitalization and respiratory support. Many of the deaths recorded so far from COVID-19 are in the elderly or in those with other chronic medical issues, such as heart or lung conditions. Since infection requires exposure to someone with the disease, the great majority of respiratory infections here, if there has been no recent travel to an area where the disease is widespread, are due to other causes such as influenza. If you have been exposed to someone known to have the disease, and you develop symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider so they can arrange for testing and care.

How do I prevent infection with the novel coronavirus? Does wearing a mask help? Should I wear a mask on a plane?

There are no vaccines or preventive medicines for the novel coronavirus at present. The virus likely spreads the same way as the flu – by airborne droplets and by being picked up from surfaces or someone else’s hands and being introduced into your eyes, nose, or mouth inadvertently during daily activities. The best way to prevent infection is not to go near someone who is sick with the disease - avoid travel to areas of the world where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring. If you are in areas with active disease outbreaks, then the best measures are to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone with symptoms, avoid close contact such as shaking hands, and practice frequent hand hygiene.

The novel coronavirus can be killed on your hands or on other surfaces with normal varieties of soap, disinfectants, and alcohol solutions such as hand gels. Special disinfectants are not needed. Frequently cleaning your hands and being very careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without cleaning your hands are the best prevention if you are in an outbreak. Common surgical masks are probably modestly effective for a short period of time, but are not a reliable method for preventing infection. N95 respirators are likely more effective but are also not reliable. If a mask is uncomfortable, it may even be counterproductive by leading you to put your hands to your face more often. There is no information that suggests wearing a mask on a plane reduces the likelihood of infection with the novel coronavirus.

What countries should I avoid traveling to?

The U.S. Government has recommended avoiding all non-essential travel to multiple countries and is adding more as further outbreaks occur. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing all nonessential travel both domestically and internationally. U.S. travelers can keep up to date at the following website where any new travel advisories will be posted: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.

Can I receive mail or packages from infected areas?

Yes, it is very unlikely that the virus could be acquired from packages or mail due to the time involved in shipping, changes in temperatures, and types of materials used. The virus cannot be acquired from the air in popped bubble wrap or other inflated packaging from China.

How long before symptoms appear? How long does the disease last? When is someone infectious?

Symptoms appear in a broad range between 2 and 10 days after exposure and infection. If someone has not developed symptoms in 14 days from exposure, it is deemed unlikely that they were infected. It is unknown how long the disease lasts, but it is likely to vary considerably by age and by the state of your immune system. Persons who are infected are considered infectious and can transmit the virus before they have symptoms, and may be able to transmit for some time after they have recovered – not enough research has been done on this topic yet to give definitive answers.

I've heard UTHSC is researching SARS CoV-2. Can you tell me more?

Yes, our Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) is currently working with samples of the virus in a highly secure lab setting in order to research diagnostics and treatments. 

What precautions are being taken to ensure safety when handling these viruses?

Our RBL is one of 12 National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) funded regional biocontainment labs in the country, which was designed with specific engineering features that allow researchers to work safely with dangerous pathogens that can be transmitted via the aerosol route. The researchers at the UTHSC RBL have expertise with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which is another coronavirus that is similar to SARS CoV-2.   This expertise provides our team with the skills and abilities needed to research vaccines or therapeutics such as antiviral agents, while ensuring the safety of the researchers and the Memphis community. 

UTHSC follows all international, federal, state and local regulations required for research with dangerous pathogens. The RBL is approved to work with a special group of pathogens known as select agents, which are bacteria, viruses and toxins that can cause severe disease or death in humans and animals. All select agent research performed in the RBL is reviewed and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), who also perform site visits to inspect the facility and ensure all requirements for safety procedures and training are in place to protect the workers and community. You can read more by visiting the RBL's Frequently Asked Questions page

Where can I get more information?

You can visit our list of resources, as well as submit a question to your own on our "Ask an Expert" page. We will post answers to questions frequently throughout the week. 

Last Published: Mar 27, 2020