Coronavirus: Answering the top 10 questions people have been Googling

This illustration in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (CDC via AP)

WASHINGTON (TEGNA) — The spread of a new coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, has sparked concern worldwide. So far, there are more than 83,000 confirmed cases across 60 countries, with China accounting for more than 78,000 of them.

As concerns rise, so do questions about what's happening and how people can be prepared.

According to Google Trends data, these are the top 10 things people are searching about the coronavirus.

1. What is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, (MERS). The coronavirus that is currently spreading in many countries was first seen late December 2019. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2,” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019”. Prior to this, the virus was called the 2019 novel coronavirus, meaning it was a new strain of coronavirus discovered in 2019.

2. How do I prepare for the coronavirus?

As there is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid exposure. The Centers for Disease Control recommends maintaining personal preventative actions:

  • Avoiding close contact with those who are sick
  • Not touching your eyes, mouth or nose, especially with unwashed hands
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.

There is currently no community spread of the coronavirus in the U.S and the CDC says the risk to the general public is still low. Nevertheless, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC's director of the National Center for the Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said individuals and communities should begin preparing for a potential outbreak in the U.S. by implementing "non-pharmaceutical intervention methods."

Parents should inquire local schools about its outbreak plans, including whether or not schools will close and if schools have tele-schooling options. Parents should also plan to have childcare options available in case schools do close.

3. How many people have died from the coronavirus?

Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than 83,000 people and killed more than 2,800. The latest figures reported by every government's health agency can be viewed in the interactive graphic below:

4. How many cases of the coronavirus are in the U.S?

The CDC has reported at least 62 cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Of these, 15 cases were detected and tested in the U.S. through public health surveillance systems. Three of the these fifteen cases are instances of person-to-person transmission.

The majority of cases in the U.S. are among persons repatriated to the United States. These people were evacuated from overseas and brought back to the U.S. on chartered flights, where they were immediately quarantined. Three of these individuals were evacuated from Wuhan and 44 individuals were evacuated from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, which was briefly quarantined in Japan.

This was also the seventh most searched question about the coronavirus.

5. How did the coronavirus get started?

COVID-19 was first detected in the city of Wuhan, China in Hubei Province. Initial infections were linked to a wet market in Wuhan that sold both live and dead animals. The World Health Organization states that coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted from animals to people. It is likely that the virus was transmitted from an animal at the market to humans, but a specific source has not been identified.

Since then, the virus has spread person-to-person.

6. How is the Coronavirus spread?

SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person, mainly between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) with each other. It is spread via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets land on the noses and mouths of over people, who then inhale them.

The CDC says it may be possible for the virus to spread by touching a surface or object with the virus, but this is not thought to be the main method of spread. As the virus was only discovered a few months ago, more research is needed to further determine the spread pattern of the virus.

8. What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

According to the CDC, patients with COVID-19 have mild to severe respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients with severe complications could develop pneumonia in both lungs.

9. Where did the coronavirus originate?

COVID-19 is believed to have originated from an animal, as coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted from animal to human. Health officials have not yet determined the specific species that originated the virus.

10. Is the coronavirus worse than the flu?

The answer to this one isn't totally known yet. Since COVID-19 was discovered recently and has been spreading for just a few months, health officials are still doing research to determine important facts like how contagious it is, how fatal it is, how long it will last, etc.. There are too many unknowns to definitely say which one is worse.

Here's what we can compare:

The seasonal flu, which includes influenza A and influenza B viruses and COVID-19 are both contagious viruses that cause respiratory distress. The viruses share some symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Flu symptoms also includes muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and vomiting and diarrhea.

While there is a vaccine for the flu, there's not currently a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

The flu is also one of the viruses that spreads more during cold weather months, so flu season tends to ease up when it gets warmer. It's too soon to know if weather or temperature impact the spread of COVID-19 or whether it will be a seasonal occurrence, according to the CDC.

When it comes to comparing which one is "deadlier," things get tricky. Chinese scientists who looked at nearly 45,000 confirmed cases in the current COVID-19 outbreak concluded the death rate was 2.3%. However, there are questions about whether all cases were counted and some infected people with only mild symptoms may be missing from that tally.

On the other hand, the flu’s mortality rate is 0.1%, yet it kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year because it infects millions. So the size of the outbreak matters as much as the lethality in terms of how deadly a disease is.