A newly identified corona virus has been spreading in China, and has now reached several other countries. The number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise. Health officials are working on all fronts to learn more about the virus and put measure into place to curtail its spread. Here’s a look at what you need to know about the virus, now called 2019-nCoV.  Public health experts around the globe are scrambling to understand, track, and contain a new virus that appeared in Wuhan, China at the start of December.

Wednesday, February 5

China’s efforts to control a coronavirus outbreak are at a crucial stage and authorities must prevent the epidemic from spreading, Xinhua news agency quoted President Xi Jinping as saying.

The government must report coronavirus outbreak information accurately in a timely manner, and will crack down on coronavirus related rumour-mongering, Xi said.

What is Corona viruse?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. As Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known corona viruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

Where did the virus come from?

At the end of December, public health officials from China informed the World Health Organization that they had a problem. An unknown, new virus was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan. They quickly determined that it was a corona virus, and that it was rapidly spreading through and outside of Wuhan.

Corona viruses are common in animals of all kinds, and sometimes can evolve into forms that can infect humans. Since the start of the century, two other corona viruses have jumped to humans. It was causing the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012.

Scientists think this new virus first became capable of jumping to humans at the beginning of December. It appears to have first infected people at a seafood market in Wuhan, and spread from there.

The type of animal the virus originated from is not clear. One team of researchers in China published a report. In that report they were arguing that it came from snakes, based on the genetic code of the virus. However, scientists are very skeptical of that conclusion. Another analysis found that the genetic sequence of the new virus is 96 percent identical to one corona virus found in bats. Both SARS and MERS originated in bats.

Update on Saturday, Jan. 25: Fifteen additional deaths have been reported in Wuhan. Where the virus originated, according to the Health Commission of Hubei Province. This news brings the total number of deaths linked to 2019-nCoV in China up to 41, with only three of these outside of Wuhan, The New York Times reported. Nearly 1,300 individuals in China have been infected with the virus to date, BBC reported. In addition to the cases reported in China, reports of the infection have been confirmed in Australia, France, the U.S. and in Asia. See below for up-to-date information on everything you need to know about the spreading coronavirus.

How dangerous is this new virus?

No one knows much about it right now. In infected people the symptoms have ranged from mild to severe. Around a quarter of confirmed cases are severe, according to the WHO. So far, the fatality rate is around 3 percent, though that could change as the outbreak progresses. The fatality rate for SARS was about 14 to 15 percent.

We also don’t know how rapidly or easily the virus can spread from person to person. Early evidence suggested that the virus has only been passed from a sick person to their close family members or health workers.

How would this virus cause a pandemic?

To lead to a pandemic in humans, in this virus and any other, it needs to do three things. Efficiently infect humans, replicate in humans and then spread easily among humans, Live Science previously reported. Right now, the CDC is saying this virus passes between humans in a limited manner, but they are still investigating.

How to cure it?

There is no vaccine for the new corona virus but researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health confirmed they were in preliminary stages of developing one. In addition, the drug company Regeneron announced that it is in the early stages of developing a treatment for this virus, according to NBC News.