SARS was also spread through feces. Denison suggested the same spreading mechanism may be found in the new virus, but it's too early to know for sure.
Preliminary information on 41 patients who were hospitalized in Wuhan indicates a majority of those patients had a fever, cough and shortness of breath — symptoms similar to SARS.
But, "there are some important differences, such as the absence of upper respiratory tract symptoms," wrote the authors, from the China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University in China.
If patients don't have upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as runny nose and sneezing, it may be more difficult to spread the virus. However, it's still too early for doctors to say that this is true for all patients with the new coronavirus.
The report was published in the The Lancet on Friday.
All of this makes proper hand-washing critical to help stop the spread of the germs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before and after caring for a sick friend or a family member.
The most effective way to clean hands is to wet them with clean water, then apply soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds, before rinsing and drying with a clean towel.
Hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content may also be used, but the CDC warns they are not effective against all germs.
New virus, no immunity?
The fact that this virus is new may mean that the public may be particularly vulnerable, because there has not been time to build any immunity to it.
Key here, Denison said, is that coronaviruses do not offer what's known as cross protection. A person who had SARS in the past, for example, would not have any immunity against other coronaviruses, even though they are in the same virus group.
Meanwhile, preliminary investigations are underway at the National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine that would target the new coronavirus, and potentially offer protection if the epidemic continues.
There is no specific medication for the illness, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's untreatable. That is, doctors can streamline supportive care for individual patients, whether they have fever, trouble breathing or other symptoms.
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