A student’s guide to coronavirus: What it is, what we can do

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Throughout human history, biology has thrown humanity a variety of curveballs. In the 14th century, it was the Black Death. In the 20th century, it was influenza and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the 21st century, it was Ebola, Zika and now the coronavirus.

What is the coronavirus? Obviously, it’s a disease, but it’s actually cousins with something we deal with frequently: the common cold, or the rhinovirus. The coronavirus and the rhinovirus come from the same family: they are both viruses, so they infect our cells and proliferate from there.

The coronavirus isn’t a new disease; it has been documented in the Middle East since 2012 as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Besides the modern coronavirus, MERS and another virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, are the only known types of coronaviruses that can cause severe symptoms in humans. The coronavirus in the news today, though, is a different strain of the original virus. It’s called the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. This strain is believed to have been transmitted from animals to humans and then from humans to other humans after the initial infection occurred. The virus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets, such as those from coughs or sneezes.

2019-nCoV is known to cause symptoms such as the common cold and more severe ones such as pneumonia and bronchitis. It’s these severe symptoms that lead to the deaths caused by the virus. Fortunately, many of these symptoms are treatable, and because of this, the coronavirus does not pose as much of a threat to people with healthy immune systems and access to more intensive care in hospitals and treatment centers. Unfortunately, this disease disproportionately affects young children, the elderly and those with underdeveloped or weak immune systems. As college students living in the Bay Area, the UC Berkeley student population does not have much to worry about.

The chances of having this virus are extremely slim for those who have not been in or around the city of Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province and the epicenter of the disease. Since there are only two confirmed cases in California — which are both being treated in Southern California — the chances of being infected in Northern California are even slimmer. However, they are never zero. According to a campuswide email co-signed by campus Vice Chancellor of Administration Marc Fisher, the school is doing everything it can to ensure that the UC Berkeley community stays healthy. University Health Services also confirmed that there are no Bay Area cases of the coronavirus.

The best thing to do if one experiences symptoms similar to those that accompany the coronavirus is to treat them the same way symptoms of the flu are treated: covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, staying hydrated and getting ample rest. It’s important to remember that everyday diseases like the flu can present similar symptoms as those associated with the coronavirus, so just because you have a fever, aches and shortness of breath does not necessarily mean you have contracted the virus.

Humanity has survived many diseases in the past, but these diseases are serious and do destroy lives, so it is important for us to stay educated and sensitive. With modern technology and health practices, 2019-nCoV should hopefully not affect us in the Bay Area, but it does pay to be vigilant. Make sure to keep those affected in your thoughts and stay up to date on information about the virus from responsible news sources!

Contact Hamzah Alam at [email protected].