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July 16, 2020

Global COVID-19 Cases Top 13.5 Million

Global COVID-19 Cases Top 13.5 Million

Updated on July 16, 2020 at 12:30pm EST.

Globally, more than 13.5 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in 188 different countries. The disease has also claimed more than 584,000 lives around the world.

The United States leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Roughly 3.5 million Americans have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 137,420 have died as a result. Due to limited testing and mild cases, which may have gone undetected, however, the number of cases and deaths is likely higher. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic back on March 11, noting it's the first pandemic to be caused by a coronavirus. As the infection spread across the globe, a quarter of the world's population was forced to live under some form of lockdown and follow social distancing guidelines. The United States is one of many countries that implemented measures to "flatten the curve" and control the pandemic, which has reshaped the world and rattled global financial markets. As the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many parts of the U.S., all 50 states have begun taking steps to gradually re-open their economis and ease restrictions, which have included bans on large gatherings and the closures of schools, bars, restaurants, parks, theaters and other public places.

Warning signs of infection
Those infected with COVID-19 have developed a range of symptoms associated with a respiratory infection. Researchers are still investigating how the coronavirus affects the body, but the most commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • New loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Phlegm or a productive cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Chills

Less commonly reported symptoms include, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

More severe coronavirus infections can also lead to pneumonia, kidney failure or even death.

Symptoms of COVID-19 tend to develop, on average, about five days after exposure. In some cases however, the SARS-CoV-2 incubation period—the amount of time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms begin—may be even longer than 14 days.

Some people have also tested positive for COVID-19 up to 3 days before they developed symptoms while others have tested positive even though they never developed any symptoms at all. This supports the idea that people can be infectious and shed the virus even before they realize they are sick. This has made controlling the pandemic much more challenging.

COVID-19 vs. other coronavirus outbreaks
The emergence of COVID-19 is a stark reminder of previous deadly coronavirus outbreaks, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That illness, which is caused by SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV), was first reported in Asia in February 2003. SARS spread to more than 29 countries before it was contained. There have been no confirmed cases of that particular coronavirus since 2004.

More recently, health officials scrambled to contain an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), which originated in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Roughly three or four out of every 10 MERS cases has been fatal, according to the CDC. The agency points out, however, that only two cases ever reached the U.S., and both were associated with travel to the Arabian Peninsula.

Do you need to be worried?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a newly identified coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2. It’s important to understand, however, that there are many coronaviruses. Most trigger mild to moderate illness and most people will be infected with one of them at some point in their lives. Only rarely do coronaviruses lead to serious illnesses, such as MERS and SARS.

The World Health Organization notes that COVID-19 is not as deadly as SARS, or MERS. By comparison, the WHO estimates that more than 80 percent of those with COVID-19 will develop only a mild infection and recover.

About 15 percent of cases result in severe illness and complications, including pneumonia and trouble breathing. Fewer still, about 5 percent, will develop very serious issues, including respiratory failure, septic shock and organ failure. As researchers continue to learn more about this new coronavirus, estimates for its mortality rate range from 0.6 to 3.4 percent.

The greatest concern is for older people and those with a weakened immune system or underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease or cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions. It's important to understand however, that even otherwise healthy younger adults can also develop a more serious infection that requires hospitalization and the use of medical supplies and equipment that are in short supply. In fact, the latest CDC data shows that nearly 40 percent of U.S. patients sick enough to be hospitalized were between 20 and 54-years old. The risk of dying however, is much greater for older people.

What is a coronavirus anyway?
Coronaviruses are actually a common type of virus that cause respiratory symptoms—much like a cold—that range from mild to severe. These viruses usually circulate among animals, particularly camels as well as cats or bats. On rare occasions, animal coronaviruses can mutate and spread to people. There are several coronaviruses currently circulating among animals that have not yet infected humans.

The outbreak in China was initially linked to a large seafood and animal market in the Hubei province. Scientists believe SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats. There is also speculation that the virus then spread to pangolins before infecting humans.

How do coronaviruses spread?
Like the flu and some other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses typically spread among people through close personal contact, usually within six feet.     

Scientists have warned that COVID-19 spreads mainly through contaminated respiratory droplets that are emitted when infected people cough or sneeze and possibly when they breathe or speak. When these droplets escape the body they may land in a nearby person’s mouth, nose or eyes. They can travel about six feet before settling on a nearby surface. If you touch a contaminated surface then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you can also become infected.

It is not yet clear how long SARS-CoV-2 survives on surfaces, but the WHO notes that early evidence suggests it may persist for up to several days, depending on the type of surface and other variables, like temperature and humidity.

Airborne spread, however, involves aerosols—particles even smaller than respiratory droplets that may waft and linger in the air. Aside from medical procedures that are known to emit aerosols, such as intubations, airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is still under investigation. On July 9, 2020, the World Health Organization updated its guidelines, noting it could be possible in some other indoor settings.

“Outside of medical facilities, some outbreak reports related to indoor crowded spaces have suggested the possibility of aerosol transmission, combined with droplet transmission, for example, during choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes,” the revised guidelines state. “In these events, short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out.”

More research is needed to determine how much airborne transmission may be contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

Lab tests on blood or other bodily secretions are used to detect coronaviruses among those with suspected severe coronavirus infections, such as SARS, MERS or COVID-19.

Is there a treatment?
There are no specific drugs or treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses.

U.S. researchers gave the first shots of an experimental coronavirus vaccine to a human vaccine trial participant on Monday, March 15. It's one of dozens of COVID-19 vaccines currently in development around the world. Several antiviral treatments are also being tested.

Although the development of a safe and effective vaccine can take years, scientists working hard to develop a COVID-19 vaccine have hinted at early successes with newer technologies. Once a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, it will take time to manufacture and distribute to the world. 

In many cases, people with mild or moderate infections recover on their own. Supportive care, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids, can help.

How to protect yourself
Like the seasonal flu, there are steps you can take to prepare for COVID-19 and reduce your risk of infection, including:

  • Washing your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Not touching any part of your face, including your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding people with suspected or confirmed infections

If you believe you were exposed to COVID-19 or if you, or someone in your home, has symptoms consistent with a respiratory infection, don’t panic.

Instead, take immediate steps to isolate yourself to avoid spreading your illness to others. This means keeping distance between yourself and the other people in your home. Call your healthcare provider (HCP) for instructions. Do not go to your doctor’s office without calling ahead first and letting the office staff know that you suspect you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

Your doctor should determine if you can be treated at home, and also determine if you should be tested for the coronavirus and where that should be done.

If you develop serious warning signs of COVID-19, however, you need to seek immediate medical attention. These red flags may include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Feeling confused
  • Bluish lips or face

Call 911 and let the operator know that you have or think you may have COVID-19. If you have a medical mask, put it on before help arrives.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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