13 questions and answers about the new coronavirus and the disease.

Source: La Unión de México.

Written by Joaquín Moreno Contreras and Carlos Sandoval Jaime.

Joaquín Moreno Contreras is a doctoral student at the Institute of Biotechnology-UNAM and Dr. Carlos Sandoval Jaime is a researcher at the same institution, as well as a member of the Mexican Society of Virology. The Mexican Society of Virology has the mission of promoting, disseminating and strengthening the development of virology in Mexico. Both authors are supported by the CONACyT Virology Pronaii.

This publication has been reviewed by the editorial committee of the Morelos Academy of Sciences.


 At the end of 2019, atypical pneumonia cases began to appear in the Chinese population, more specifically in a region known as Wuhan, which has been written in this column in previous articles ( article / a-new-coronavirus-what-is-it-we-have-to-worry; in-an-epidemic; This initiated a series of procedures aimed at determining the infectious agent that was affecting the population and it was determined that the person responsible was a virus. More specifically a coronavirus, one that has not been identified worldwide before and was called the "new coronavirus." Throughout these months, many doubts have been raised regarding this virus and most have spread on social networks, which has also generated a lot of misinformation. Therefore, we have compiled some of the most recurring ones and give an answer, with the information known so far and which is based on scientifically based information sources.

1. What is a coronavirus?.

Coronaviruses are an extensive family of viruses of medical and veterinary importance. In humans, coronaviruses primarily cause respiratory tract infections, which can present as common colds, or in more severe cases, cause pneumonia or even death. Over the years, we have encountered other coronaviruses that caused alerts in the population: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The new coronavirus has been named by experts as SARS-CoV-2.

2. What's the difference between SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19? 

These are the names given to the virus and the disease caused by the virus, respectively. The names correspond to Coronavirus 2 of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2). The disease is Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names. There are several reasons for naming the virus and the disease it causes differently. Viruses are named based on their genetic makeup or shape, to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines, and medications. Virologists do this work, which is why viruses are appointed by the International Committee on Virus Taxonomy (ICTV). Furthermore, diseases are named to facilitate discussion of prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity, and treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the agency in charge of naming diseases. ICTV announced "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)" as the name of the new virus on February 11, 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak. from 2003. Although related, the two viruses are different. The WHO announced "COVID-19" as the name of this new disease on February 11, 2020.

3. Was COVID-19 generated in a laboratory?

By analyzing the genetic information of the virus, it has been determined that very similar viruses can be found in nature. Its closest relative has been estimated to be a bat virus found in a cave in 2013 in Yunnan, China, more than 1,000 km from Wuhan. It is believed that there is a common ancestor that was found in a bat and that from there it passed to another wild animal not identified yet and from this jump to infect humans. Creating a virus in order to cause a certain disease or to have greater virulence is something that science is far from being able to achieve.

4. How can I avoid getting SARS-CoV2?

Although the spread of this virus depends on many factors and the probability of getting it can never be reduced to zero, the recommendations to reduce the risk are:

  • Wash hands with soap and water or with sanitizers based on 60-80% alcohol

  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose with dirty hands.

  • In case of sneezing or coughing, cover nose and mouth with the inner part of the forearm (label sneeze).

  • Cleans and disinfects objects that are frequently touched or used by several people.

  • Avoid places with a large influx of people.

  • Staying at home (social isolation), especially if you have flu-like symptoms, in order to prevent infections.

  • In case of being sick, use a mask.

  • Avoid having contact with sick people.

In case of presenting symptoms or requiring additional information, you can call the number 01800-0044-800, which is a line open to the public by the Epidemiological Intelligence Unit where you will be attended by trained personnel.

5. Why do I need to wash my hands frequently?

Washing your hands with soap and water helps to break the virus transmission cycle through different mechanisms. Structurally, coronaviruses have a lipid covering, which serves to infect a new cell, as well as a protection mechanism. Soap dissolves the lipid membrane present in viruses. By losing the lipid layer, viruses are unable to infect the cells. On the other hand, an infected person can spread the virus in the environment through drops when coughing or sneezing, these drops can remain on surfaces that we touch with our hands, by touching these contaminated surfaces and then bringing our hands to our face increases the risk of contagion. Soap helps dissolve these drops with viruses, reducing the risk of contagion. Finally, the virus can be removed from the surface of the skin because the soap along with the water can displace the virus from the surface of the skin, because the skin is wrinkled and rough. Hand washing must be done with plenty of water. , trying to rub your hands well, in order to ensure that the soap reaches the entire surface of the skin. In case of not having soap and water, the use of antibacterial gels containing between 60 and 80% alcohol is recommended, alcohol works in a similar way to soap, since it also dissolves the lipid cover of the virus, although it does it with less efficiency.

That is why it is important to wash our hands frequently with plenty of soap and water, in this way we eliminate germs and avoid the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. Handwashing is recommended after coughing or sneezing, before and after caring for or in contact with sick people, before eating, after using the bathroom, before, during and after preparing food.

6. How long is SARS-CoV-2 infectious on surfaces?

Experiments carried out by a group of researchers from the NIH / Princeton / UCLA that studied the infectivity of SARS-CoV-1 and 2 in aerosols and on different surfaces, give us an idea of ​​how the virus can be maintained in these places.

  • Sprays up to 3 hours.

  • Cardboard up to 24 hours.

  • Steel up to 48 hours.

  • Plastic up to 72 hours.

These data are estimates, were taken under laboratory conditions and have yet to be confirmed. Under natural conditions, temperature, humidity and other factors will influence the duration of the virus in aerosols and on surfaces. This is why it is very important to keep surfaces clean using chlorine or alcohol based disinfectants.

7. Do antibiotics work to treat COVID-19?

No, antibiotics should be used only to treat infections caused by bacteria. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics should not be used to cure or prevent this disease. Viral diseases are treated with antivirals, and there is currently no specific antiviral to treat or prevent this disease. Studies are currently underway that are testing some antivirals used for other viral diseases to determine their efficacy in fighting COVID-19 infection, but these studies are still in the clinical testing phase.

8. Can I treat COVID-19 disease with homeopathic treatments or alternative medicine?

It is not recommended to use alternative medicine treatments to fight this infection, since there are no reports that these are effective against SARS-Cov2. It is recommended to go to the nearest health clinic to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.

9. Is it safe to receive packages from China?

Yes, since it is highly unlikely that an infected person handling commercial products will contaminate them, additionally according to studies, it has been determined that SARS-CoV2 can remain in droplets for 3 hours, in cardboard boxes for 24 hours, in stainless steel and plastic for 2 to 3 days. All these values ​​are variable and depend on different factors such as temperature, among others, because the packages move and travel exposed to different environmental conditions that can alter the time that the virus can remain on surfaces, therefore, the risk contracting the virus is low. However, if there is a suspicion that the package may be contaminated, it is recommended to disinfect the surfaces and, after handling, wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based disinfectant (60-80%).

10. Can COVID-19 be transmitted by pets?

No. To date, there are no reports that companion animals or pets, such as cats and dogs, may be infected or may spread to SARS-CoV2. However, it is advisable to wash your hands after having contact with them, as well as after cleaning your feces.

11. Can the rise in ambient temperature stop the outbreak?

This virus is very new, we have only known it for 9 weeks and we do not know if the temperature of the environment will influence its infectivity. The information that we do have is that there have been outbreaks in countries like Singapore and Thailand when the temperature in those days was 30C, so it seems that the infectivity of SARS-Cov2 is not affected by the climate.

12. Does the Influenza vaccine protect you against the new coronavirus?

No, the influenza vaccine does not protect you from SARS-CoV2. Currently there is no vaccine for this virus, although possible vaccines are under investigation, so it is expected to have one soon. Because this SARS-CoV2 pandemic coincided with the flu season and some of the symptoms are similar, the vaccine would have greatly helped to reduce suspected cases. Unfortunately, awareness has not been raised enough for people to get this vaccine on a regular basis.

13. What is the diagnostic test to detect SARS-CoV2?

The diagnostic test authorized by the Secretary of Health in Mexico consists of a molecular biology technique called real-time PCR. This technique is highly sensitive and specific, as it uses small fluorescent primers and probes that specifically recognize the gene that codes for membrane protein E and the reverse transcriptase or RdRp of the SARS-CoV2 virus. If the virus is present in a sample from a suspected patient, a fluorescence signal is detected and quantified by special equipment, otherwise, no signal is detected. Currently, in the presence of a suspicious case, this test is performed by the State Public Health Laboratories (LESP), which are trained and certified to carry out the diagnostic test.