How does coronavirus spread and how can you protect yourself?

    Coronavirus 2019-nCoV spreads from person to person in close proximity, similar to other respiratory diseases.

More than 14,500 people have been infected by the new coronavirus, which has continued to spread to more countries since it was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early December.

At least 304 people have died so far in China, and one in the Philippines. Almost all deaths in China have been in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. 

Here's what you need to know about how the virus spreads:

How does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV spreads from person to person in close proximity, similar to other respiratory diseases, such as influenza.

The disease can be transmitted by sneezing or coughing, which disperses droplets of body fluids such as saliva or mucous membranes.

According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel a few meters and stay in the air for up to 10 minutes.

These spots can come into direct contact with other people, or they can infect those they catch by touching the surfaces on which the infected spots sit, or by touching a surface and then their face.

It is not yet known how long the virus can survive on the surface, but for other viruses, the range is between hours or months.

The incubation period of the coronavirus, the length of time before symptoms appear, is between one and 14 days.

Although not yet confirmed, Chinese health authorities believe the virus can be transmitted before symptoms appear.

This would have major consequences for the content measures, according to Gerard Krause, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Center for Infection.

"It is unusual for communicable respiratory diseases even before the first symptoms appear," he told Al Jazeera.

Can people be immune to the new coronavirus?

Spread viruses usually come with lower mortality rates and vice versa.

Although the overall death toll has risen, the current death rate stands at about 2.4 percent - this is lower than previously thought and far less than the Acute Respiratory Order Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that outbreaks between 2002 and 2003, which killed 9.6 percent of those infected.

As the virus is a completely new strain, there is no existing immunity to anyone who will encounter it.

A level of immunity will naturally develop over time, but this means that those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or the sick, are more at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from coronavirus.

How can people be protected? Are face masks useful?

In terms of self-protection, experts agree that it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap; cover your face when coughing or sneezing; see a doctor if you have symptoms and avoid direct contact with live animals in the affected areas.

While face masks are popular, scientists doubt their effectiveness against air viruses.

They may provide some protection for you and others, but they are made of permeable material, meaning points can still pass.

What is being done to stop the spread of coronavirus, and when will the vaccine become possible?

China has placed Wuhan and more than a dozen other cities under lockdown, affecting more than 50 million people, though this has not stopped the virus from spreading throughout China.

As the number of confirmed cases continues to increase, businesses and countries are increasingly taking drastic action.

Russia has closed its border with China.

Person-to-person transmission has been confirmed in several countries, which WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan has called a "major concern".

Even with the latest advances in medical technology, it is unlikely that a vaccine can be made available for mass distribution within a year.

This means that public health measures to improve the spread will be essential to improve the outbreak.

Moving restrictions will not stop the spread of the disease completely, but will slow its progress and buy time for areas that have avoided infection to prepare.

How severe is this epidemic?

Given the response and effect, the new coronavirus is being treated as a serious concern.

The infection is now more widespread than the SARS virus that was in 2002-03, which also started in China, in terms of people affected, but not deaths. 

How does coronavirus spread and how can you protect yourself?
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