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In late 2019, an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus (also known as novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) was reported in Wuhan, China. Since then cases have been reported in a number of other countries including Canada and the United States. Here's everything you need to know about novel coronavirus, how you can look after yourself and what UNICEF is doing to help.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in  both animals and humans. Some infect people and are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

What is the "novel" coronavirus?

A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. The new, or “novel” coronavirus, now called 2019-nCoV, had not previously detected before the outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

How is the novel coronavirus spread?

Like other coronaviruses, novel coronavirus is transmitted through direct contact, respiratory droplets like coughing and sneezing, and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

WHO primer on novel coronavirus [© World Health Organization]

How can I avoid the risk of infection?

The World Health Organization recommends the following steps, to avoid infection:

  1. Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub 
  2. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; if possible, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
  4. Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
  5. Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe

 Do I need to wear a medical mask/face mask?

The use of a medical mask is advised if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) to protect others. If you don’t have any symptoms, then there is no need to wear a mask. 

If masks are worn, they must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the virus. In particular you must remove a mask as soon as it becomes damp (due to coughing or sneezing) and single-use masks should not be reused.

The use of a mask alone is not enough to stop infections and must be combined with frequent hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, fever).

Does the novel coronavirus affect children?

This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected with the virus, but so far there have been no reported fatalities of children linked to the novel coronavirus. The virus is fatal in rare cases, so far mainly among older people with pre-existing medical conditions.

We are closely monitoring the situation and will update as new information becomes available.

Can pregnant women pass the novel coronavirus to their unborn child?

At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine whether the virus is transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, or the potential impact this may have on the baby. This is currently being investigated. Pregnant women should continue to follow appropriate precautions to protect herself from exposure to the virus, and seek medical care early, if experiencing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

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Emergency medical supplies are loaded onto a plane in Copenhagen, bound for Shanghai. [© UNICEF/UNI281221/Hildelbrandt]

What is UNICEF doing to help?

A UNICEF shipment of respiratory masks and protective suits for health workers landed in Shanghai, China, on January 29 to support China’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. UNICEF will be sending more items in the coming days and weeks.

UNICEF is in close contact with the Chinese authorities, including the Ministry of Commerce and the National Health Commission, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other UN agencies to monitor developments and needs as the situation further unfolds. UNICEF will also work with WHO and partners for a coordinated response in China and other affected countries, as well as to enhance preparedness in at-risk countries.

To learn more about the novel coronavirus, as well as for regular updates on the outbreak, visit the WHO website.