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How Does the 2019 Coronavirus Spread?



First, some brief explanation about the coronavirus itself: The clinical name for this novel coronavirus is actually SARS-CoV-2. It stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

It originated from that cause respiratory diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Because the novel coronavirus is a new strain, it’s unfamiliar to our immune systems. And there’s not yet a vaccine for it.

If a person contracts the virus, the result is the disease called COVID-19. Being a respiratory virus, it’s transmitted through respiratory droplets.

Let’s take a closer look at how the novel coronavirus spreads from one person to another, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Person-to-person contact is thought to be the main method of transmission for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Imagine sitting next to someone with a SARS-CoV-2 infection on the bus or in a meeting room. Suddenly, this person sneezes or coughs.

If they don’t cover their mouth and nose, they could potentially spray you with respiratory droplets from their nose or mouth. The droplets that land on you will likely contain the virus.

Or perhaps you meet someone who contracted the virus, and they touched their mouth or nose with their hand. When that person shakes your hand, they transfer some of the virus to your hand.

If you then touch your mouth or nose without washing your hands first, you may accidentally give that virus an entry point into your own body.

One suggested that the virus may also be present in feces and could contaminate places like toilet bowls and bathroom sinks. But the researchers noted the possibility of this being a mode of transmission needs more research.


Person-to-person contact seems to be the main method of transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Transmission typically occurs when:

  1. Someone with the virus sneezes or coughs on you, leaving respiratory droplets on your skin or clothing, or you touch someone who has the virus on their skin or clothing.
  2. You then touch your face, which gives the virus an entry point via your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Right now, the suggests that your risk for contracting the novel coronavirus from someone who isn’t showing any symptoms is very low.

But here’s some sobering news: Experts do believe it’s possible that someone with a novel coronavirus infection even if they don’t show any symptoms, or have such mild symptoms that they don’t really know they’re sick.

A person who has contracted the virus is most contagious when they’re showing symptoms — and that’s when they’re the most likely to transmit the virus.

But someone may be able to pass on the virus even before they start to show symptoms of the disease itself. The symptoms may take anywhere from 2 to 14 days to show up after exposure to the virus.

One of 181 patients with COVID-19 found a median incubation period of about 5 days, with more than 97 percent showing symptoms by 11.5 days after exposure to the virus.


According to the CDC, a person with COVID-19 is most contagious when they’re showing symptoms.

Although rare, there have been cases where someone has spread the novel coronavirus even though they didn’t have symptoms of COVID-19.

Think of all the frequently touched surfaces where germs can lurk: kitchen counters, bathroom counters, doorknobs, elevator buttons, the handle on the refrigerator, handrails on staircases. The list goes on and on.

Experts don’t know for sure how long the novel coronavirus can survive on these surfaces. But if the virus behaves like other, similar viruses, the survival time could range from several hours to several daysTrusted Source.

The type of surface, the temperature of the room, and the humidity in the environment may play a role in how long the virus can survive on a surface.

But since we don’t know for sure, if you think a surface may be contaminated, clean it thoroughly with a disinfectant. A diluted bleach solution or an EPA-approved disinfectant is likely the cleaner for this purpose.

And if someone in your home is sick, frequently clean those surfaces. Remember to thoroughly wash your hands afterward.


Experts don’t know for sure how long the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces. The survival time span could range from several hours to several days.

It can be difficult to avoid being exposed to the virus, especially if you’re often surrounded by other people. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Stand back. Try to stay clear of people who are coughing or sneezing. The WHOTrusted Sourcesuggests staying at least 3 feet away from people who may be sick. The CDCTrusted Sourcesuggests an even wider berth of about 6 feet.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds every time.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water. Look for a product that’s at least 60 percent alcoholTrusted Source.
  • Avoid touching your face. You can easily transmit the virus from your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes without even realizing it.
  • Stay home. You may hear this called “social isolation.” Staying away from groups of people may help you avoid being exposed.

Right now, experts are suggesting that it’s not necessary to wear a face mask to protect yourself from getting sick.

However, according to the CDCTrusted Source, people who are sick should wear a mask if they’re around other people.