Six people in Australia are thought to have caught it, and it’s believed to have originated in snakes and bats, but what is the deadly Coronavirus and how worried do you need to be about it?

The SARS-like virus has infected hundreds of people in Wuhan, China since the outbreak began in December, and killed at least 25 people. More than 18 million people have been essentially quarantined, with China locking down three cities in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Unfortunately, authorities did not act quickly enough, and so far six Australians – two in Queensland, and four in NSW – are suspected to have caught the virus.

What is the novel coronavirus and how is it related to snakes?

Rude that a virus should be this pretty, honestly. Photo: Getty.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses common among animals. This particular one, also known as 2019-nCoV, is believed to have come from snakes and bats, which is not the sort of thing you want to hear when hocking up a huge vat of snot. Researchers believe the strain was formed from a combination of a coronavirus found in bats, and another in snakes. Usually, a coronavirus wouldn’t transfer to humans, but in this case, it’s believed the new mix of proteins changed the shape of the receptors that allow the virus to bind and infect cells, making the leap to humans.

Adding weight to this snake-and-bat theory is that Ground Zero for 2019-nCoV was a wholesale market in Wuhan, where a number of animals including both snakes and bats are sold.

Why is 2019-nCoV a big deal?

First of all, it’s killed 25 people and infected at least 830 people. So that’s cause for concern alone. The key thing here, however, is that there’s no vaccine to protect against it. Research is underway around the world for a vaccine, but it could be months before we get to the clinical trial stage of testing, and a more than a year for the vaccine to become available. The University of Queensland is hoping to develop a vaccine within 16 weeks.

“At this time, the unknowns are what is scary, we don’t know how easily transmissible the virus is and until we do, we don’t know the scale,” Dr Keith Chappell, from the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at UQ, told the ABC.

The World Health Organisation has decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for the time being (which would free up money but vastly restrict travel). However, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has emphasised they’re taking it very, very seriously. “WHO is following this outbreak every minute of every day,” he said.

There’s also fears the infection rate will rise as millions travel to celebrate. The Lunar New Year? Not a great time for a huge outbreak of infection in China, all things considered.

What is Australia doing about it?

At this point, mostly making a lot of updates to the worried public, and letting the various agencies do their thing.

That doesn’t mean the government isn’t watching developments closely – they are – but Australian Government Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has repeatedly assured the public there is no need for alarm.

“Look, there’s always a risk with a virus that’s novel to the human species,” he told media on Friday.

“And in the experience of SARS, there were what were called superspreaders, some mutations that were very infectious. There’s no clear evidence that that’s happened with this virus at the moment, but that’s always a risk, yep.”

Flights returning to Australia from Wuhan are being greeted with health professionals, while several flights in Sydney have had their cabins sprayed before passengers disembarked.

All six people in Australia currently undergoing testing are believed to have travelled to Wuhan recently.

Where has the virus spread to?

There are confirmed cases of the virus in the United States (including a three-year-old girl), Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand, as well as the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao. It’s believed all 25 of the deaths so far were in the elderly or otherwise immunocompromised; aside from one 80-year-old man in Beijing, all deaths were recorded in Wuhan.

What are the symptoms?

According to WHO, symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. If you suspect you may have the novel coronavirus (and honestly, unless you’ve been to China you probably don’t), then the best thing to do is call your doctor ahead of making an appointment. Again, I simply must stress that unless you have recently travelled to China or are about 80 years-old, this probably won’t affect you, but the more you know and all that.

Why is it called corona hahaha is it related to the beer?

No. And if any of your mates makes that joke, you can probably rest assured they stole it from Betoota Advocate.

Image: Getty Images