With the death toll from Coronavirus reaching over 1000, people all over the world both question the need to travel overseas. In fact, this trend is causing many American universities to cancel their study abroad programs. However, those who are studying to work in the medical field are considering the risks versus the rewards when continuing to study abroad. 

Most universities have shut down any study abroad programs that are based in China due to the origination of the virus in Wuhan. However, medical students who are still interested in pursuing education abroad may find the ability to do so, just outside of the “danger zone” in China. 

Worldwide, there have been nearly 30,000 cases of the 2019-nCoV virus reported, but students can still plan to study abroad in places that have not had high incidences of the illness. 

In order to better determine whether studying abroad is the right idea for you, let’s try to understand exactly what the virus is, how it is spread, and how to prevent the disease. 

What is the Coronavirus, exactly?

Simply put, the virus is really a fairly common respiratory virus that causes an infection in one’s sinuses, nose, and upper throat. In actuality, the coronavirus is not a dangerous virus. If this is the case, however, why are so many people becoming dangerously ill from the virus? 

Well, certain strains of the coronavirus can be quite dangerous. One version of the virus known as MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) has killed 858 people since 2012. In 2014, the first American to be diagnosed with MERS was reported, and in May 2015, new outbreaks of MERS were reported in Korea. Another form of the coronavirus known as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) killed 774 people between 2003 and 2015; no recent reports of SARS have been made. 

Yet, the virus that is killing people in 2020 is not SARS nor is it MERS. This new virus has only recently gained its own name – 2019-nCoV, or the 2019 novel coronavirus. 

You might be surprised to learn that the virus is likely something you’ve actually contracted at some point during your life, particularly if you are a United States citizen. Most young children in America gets a coronavirus infection during either the fall or winter of the year; they experience the typical symptoms of a cold – sore throat, stuffy nose, and a fever. Some children with the virus will experience middle ear infection. Most of the time, the virus can be treated with over-the-counter medications and lots of rest. 

Much about the 2019-nCoV remains a mystery because scientists themselves are doing all they can to learn about the new strain of the virus. It is referred to as a novel virus because it has not been identified prior to the recent outbreak. Public health officials at this point are not sure as to the source of the 2019-nCoV. At this writing, scientists are working diligently to analyze the genetic tree of the 2019-nCoV. The SARS and MERS variations of the virus came from animals. 

The Center for Disease Control has released information stating that the 2019-nCoV is a betacoronavirus, which typically originates in bats. Researchers are finding that the virus is the result of a single, recent emergence from an animal reservoir. The first patients who were infected with the 2019-nCoV were linked to a large seafood and live animal market. This means that initially, the virus was spread via animal-to-person contact. However, later transmissions of the 2019-nCoV were from person-to-person spread. 

The 2019-nCoV variation of the coronavirus has been reported in North America, Asia, and Australia. In the United States, the virus has been reported in Washington state, Illinois, California, and Arizona. Massachusetts and Wisconsin have also reported positive test results in their population as well. 

Each of these cases are people who have returned from China or traveling abroad. As of this writing, there is no report of the 2019-nCoV virus being spread across the United States by person-to-person contact. The government is taking measures to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV virus by preventing the entry of foreign nationals who have visited China within the last fourteen days as well as taking measures to test U.S. citizens who have returned from China within the last fourteen days. 

The symptoms of the 2019-nCoV are much like those of the common cold – fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms appear anywhere from two days to fourteen days after exposure. With this version of the virus, it is not initially known whether an individual has the common cold caused by the rhinovirus or if the 2019-nCoV virus is the culprit. Those who have traveled to China are suspected to have the 2019-nCoV variation. 

The coronavirus, particularly 2019-nCoV, becomes dangerous when the virus spreads to the lower respiratory tract (one’s lungs) and becomes pneumonia. Pneumonia becomes dangerous when very young or old people contract the illness, and those with heart disease as well as weakened immune systems (as one would have with certain autoimmune illnesses) are more likely to suffer debilitating effects of pneumonia. 

How does one prevent this coronavirus?

First, treat it as you would if you had a normal cold. Considering that there is person-to-person contact that is currently spreading the virus, look at every person you come in contact as potentially carrying the 2019-nCoV. Do not allow for close contact with individuals. Keep hand sanitizer close at all times, and use it after opening doors or touching other publicly used items. If you must shake hands with someone, wash your hands afterward or use hand sanitizer. Work diligently to remember to keep your hands and fingers away from your mouth, eyes, and/or nose. 

The 2019-nCoV is a dangerous version of the usually harmless coronavirus. However, this strain can be successfully treated, particularly if it is caught in time. Use precaution when interacting with others, and wash your hands frequently. Preventing the spread of the virus is rather easy, but anyone who suspects they have the virus should be treated immediately.