The ongoing coronavirus epidemic has thrown the world into disarray. Yet details about the virus, and how it’s spread are still shrouded in mystery.
This novel virus was completely unknown until its emergence in December 2019. And scientists are still scrambling for answers about where it came from, how it first came to infect humans and how to contain it.
However, the good news is that mosquitoes are not known to transmit the virus. This will be of some relief to people in subtropical and tropical regions. But the question remains as to how the illness is spread and, therefore, how to prevent it.
So, what do we know so far about how coronavirus spreads from person to person? And how can you reduce your risk of catching it?
What is coronavirus?
The term coronavirus refers to a large and diverse family of viruses. Other members of the coronavirus family include regular flu, Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), Mers (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome) and Ebola. The new coronavirus (aka COVID-19) is a variant we’ve never seen or studied before and a lot of its traits remain shrouded in mystery.
What we do know is that COVID-19 seems to have originated in animals, as most of the first wave of infected people either worked at or had recently visited the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Scientists have since confirmed that the virus can be spread from person to person, most likely through tiny sneeze or cough droplets.
How did coronavirus spread from animals to humans? And can it be transmitted by mosquitoes?
Like Sars and Mers, COVID-19 originated in animals and then jumped to humans.
Infections that can spread between animals and humans are called zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases can be picked up by humans in a number of different ways, including:
- Direct contact with animal feces or other bodily fluids
- Through contaminated food or water
- Through the bites of mosquitoes or other insects
- Through other mammals (as is the case with rabies)
So far, little is understood about how exactly COVID-19 made the leap from animal to human host, though we know that the virus is now spreading through contact with infected humans.
However, unlike Zika, this new coronavirus is not thought to be transmitted through the bites of mosquitoes or any other insects.
So, how is coronavirus transmitted between people?
Coronavirus is transmitted between people via the tiny droplets of liquid that are released when a person sneezes or coughs.
The virus enters the airways and lungs of people nearby when they inhale these droplets, similar to how other respiratory infections (such as cold and flu) are spread. It is also thought that the virus may be spread through contact with infected surfaces in public spaces.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus? And how dangerous is it?
COVID-19 causes pneumonia, with symptoms including shortness of breath, a cough, and a fever.
In severe cases, the illness can cause severe breathing difficulties and organ failure. The mortality rate of COVID-19 is not yet known, but it is thought to be around 2%. However, this is likely to be an overestimate, as the number of infection cases is probably far higher than we currently realize.
Though it would appear that COVID-19 is slightly more dangerous than regular flu (which has a mortality rate of less than 1%), it is worth noting that the estimated mortality rate of the new coronavirus is likely to drop as more data comes in. As is the case with regular flu, the majority of deaths happen among patients who are very elderly, or otherwise in already poor health.
How can you protect yourself from coronavirus?
It’s important to note that, unless you are from an area with confirmed cases of coronavirus, you are very, very unlikely to be exposed to the illness.
However, if there is coronavirus in your country, it’s a good idea to follow these general hygiene tips to minimize the risk of transmission:
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from someone who is actively sneezing or coughing.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Carry antibacterial gel to clean your hands before eating in public.
- Consider wearing a face mask if you will be visiting a crowed place in an area with confirmed cases of coronavirus.
- If you have to cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue and throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue to hand, it’s better to cough into your elbow than your hands, as this helps to minimize the spread of the virus.
Other zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted by mosquitoes
So far, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus can be spread by mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t make mosquitoes any safer. These notorious insects are responsible for more human deaths globally than any other creature on the planet (besides other humans) thanks to their role as vectors of disease.
Zoonotic diseases are transmitted from animals to humans, and some of the most common zoonotic diseases carried by mosquitoes include:
- Dengue fever
- Yellow fever
- Japanese encephalitis
- West Nile fever
- Rift valley fever
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is now thought to have infected over 40,000 people worldwide since its emergence in Wuhan in December 2019. Two months on and there seems to be little we can do to slow the spread of the infection, which seems to be passed on through human to human transmission.
So far, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is transmitted by mosquitoes. However, very little is understood about this brand-new virus, and pieces of the puzzle surrounding its transmission from animals to humans are still missing.
As scientists learn more about the infection, an insect vector may be discovered but, until then, the best way to prevent infection is to not let anyone cough on you.