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Coronavirus Update: Clearing Up Some Of The Confusion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide there is a lot of controversy and misinformation surrounding the epidemic.

Is there a treatment? How can you prevent it? What about a vaccine?

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez has some of the answers.

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Coronaviruses are extremely common. They can cause a wide variety of respiratory illnesses, ranging from the pretty harmless common cold to the highly dangerous Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome or "MERS."

This new strain of coronavirus falls somewhere in between.

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The coronavirus is called that because of the many crown-like protrusions on its surface. Like other coronaviruses, this is a respiratory virus that causes pneumonia, the main way that it kills.

It is contagious by breathing in infected droplets from coughs or sneezes, although hand-to-hand transmission is probably more significant.

It's also a fairly hardy virus. A German report says it can survive on surfaces for as long as nine days, which partly explains why it seems to be spreading so rapidly.

"We have countries that are starting to have community spread, which is essentially getting us closer and closer to what you would consider the definition of a pandemic," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Infectious Disease and Allergy.

Those numbers are becoming concerning. Although in the U.S. there have only been 58 reported cases, globally there have been more than 81,000 cases and climbing, with at least 2,700 deaths, the vast majority in China.

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But on Wednesday at the World Health Organization, the director said there is a glimmer of good news.

"For the last two days there have been fewer reported new infections in China, but the numbers could go up again," Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said.

Another glimmer of hope came from Gilead pharmaceuticals, which said that the University of Nebraska has begun testing its antiviral drug Remdesivir against this coronavirus. Also, Boston biotech company Moderna reported that it has shipped vials of a potential corona vaccine to the National Institutes of Health to begin Phase 1 human testing. However, experts there say it could be a year or more before a vaccine is ready for use.

As with all respiratory viruses, including the flu virus, the best way to prevent getting infected is hand washing, early and often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. No soap and water? An alcohol-based hand sanitizer also does the trick.

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