The Coronavirus: Here are some of the important things you'll want to know

New Zealand officials say it's highly likely a new coronavirus called 2019-nCoV will arrive in the country, as its spread around the world continues.

But what is it? And what might it mean for New Zealand if it arrives here? Here are some things you may find helpful to know … 

WHAT IS IT?

Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses which includes the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome – better known as Sars - and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).

This month, officials identified a new coronavirus called novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.

Since then, it's infected more than 2700 people and killed at least 81.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Its symptoms - fever, coughing and difficulty breathing - are similar to a range of other illnesses such as influenza.

Difficulty breathing is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

HOW DO WE PREVENT IT?

Being a new virus, there is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV infection, so the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the rubbish.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

HOW DID IT ORIGINATE?

Scientists don't yet know how 2019-nCoV is transmitted to people, but it's likely that it comes from an animal.

WHERE HAS IT BEEN FOUND SO FAR?

The vast majority of cases – and all of the deaths so far – have occurred in China.

Elsewhere in the world, there have been eight cases in Hong Kong; five cases in the US, Macau, Australia and Taiwan respectively; four each in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan; three in France, two in Canada and Vietnam; and one in Nepal and Cambodia.

As at the weekend, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade - which was advising Kiwi travellers to avoid Hubei province - reported there were 369 New Zealanders registered on SafeTravel as being in China, of whom 16 were registered as being in Wuhan.

HOW EASILY COULD IT SPREAD IF IT ARRIVED IN NEW ZEALAND?

New Zealand officials say it's highly likely a case will be confirmed in New Zealand at some point.

University of Auckland microbiologist Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles has stressed that the chances of New Zealand seeing an outbreak like is happening in China is very low.

"That's because we don't have the same population density as China and are in a good position to be able to identify and isolate infected people and anyone they have had contact with to stop the infection spreading," she said.

WHAT ARE THE GENERAL MESSAGES FOR THE PUBLIC?

All travellers to New Zealand who become sick within a month of their arrival were being encouraged to seek medical advice and contact Healthline at 0800 611 116 or a doctor and share their travel history.

It was important to mention recent travel from Hubei Province, particularly Wuhan, the Ministry of Health said.

And any known contact with someone with severe acute respiratory illness who has been in Hubei Province, particularly Wuhan.

As with all respiratory illnesses, people could take steps to reduce their risk of infection.

This includes regularly washing hands, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, staying home if you are sick and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

This article was first published on the NZ Herald and has republished here with permission.