News of coronavirus is spreading anxiety to North America. Learn here what coronavirus is, what the risks are to Canadians and how to stay safe.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness – ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.


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

How Coronavirus Spreads

Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:

  • respiratory droplets generated when one coughs or sneezes;
  • close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; or,
  • touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.


Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include the following:

  • regular hand washing;
  • covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing;
  • wearing masks when in public;
  • staying socially distanced from people outside of your household;
  • avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing;
  • avoiding individuals with chronic conditions, compromised immune systems and older adults;
  • staying home if you are sick; and,
  • avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

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