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Your top 5 questions about coronavirus — answered

W.H. official on how long pandemic could last
White House coronavirus official on how long coronavirus pandemic could last 04:04

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb worldwide as officials take unprecedented steps to combat and contain the outbreak. People are asking questions as they face the uncertainty of the pandemic.

These are the top five questions asked in the United States about coronavirus in the past week, according to Google Trends – and their answers.

How did coronavirus start?

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was first identified in Wuhan, a city in central China that's home to more than 11 million people. 

Many of the early patients were linked to Hua Nan Seafood Wholesale Market, a large seafood and animal market in the city, CBS News' Ramy Inocencio reported. Health officials believe the virus was initially transmitted from animals to humans.

What is the coronavirus?

The new coronavirus spreading around the world is part of a large family of viruses – coronaviruses – that cause illnesses as minor as colds or as severe as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they're transmitted between animals and humans.

"Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans," WHO says.

It is believed the new virus spreads mainly from person-to-person – between people in close to each other (within about 6 feet) and via droplets from an infected person coughing or sneezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties," WHO says. "In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death."

The CDC says symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. "This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses," it says.

The CDC says people who are at higher risk of getting very sick are older adults and people who have "serious underlying medical conditions" such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease.

Read more from the WHO and the CDC.

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

As of Wednesday morning, there were more than 9,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide. 

Five other countries had a higher number of confirmed cases: Germany, with more than 13,000, Spain with more than 15,000, Iran with more than 18,000, Italy with more than 35,000, and China with more than 81,000 cases.

See the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

How long does coronavirus last?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, people with mild COVID-19 cases appear to recover within one to two weeks. Recovery for severe cases can take six weeks or more. 

"Based on research that has detected viral genetic material in patients several weeks after they've recovered from COVID-19, it is safest to assume that you may be contagious for weeks after you recover," it said.

People are also wondering how long the virus lives on surfaces.

"We have studies that show it depends on ambient temperature, number one, and then on the surface," said Dr. Vin Gupta, a respiratory specialist and global health policy expert. "So depending on the temperature, if it's, say 70 degrees, you can see fomites — basically the virus particles — live on surfaces like paper or steel up to anywhere from two hours to nine days, but if it's ambient, if it's, say, 60 to 70 degrees, longer lifespan; if it's hotter or colder, shorter lifespan."

As far as how long the global coronavirus outbreak is expected to last, the short answer is: We don't know.

"Some viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more when the weather is colder. But it is still possible to become sick with these viruses during warmer months. At this time, we do not know whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when the weather warms up," says Harvard Health Publishing. 

Read more from Harvard Health Publishing.

How many people have died from coronavirus?

As of Wednesday morning, 9,415 people had died from the new coronavirus worldwide. There have been 152 deaths in the United States.

See the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. 

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