You asked us tons of questions about the coronavirus. We're answering them.

When people ask how to protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19, one of the first suggestions from doctors is washing your hands. Here are the do's and don'ts. USA TODAY

You asked us tons of questions about the coronavirus. We're answering them.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, hundreds of our readers across the nation have asked us questions about COVID-19.

Federal health officials are asking Americans to stay home as much as possible and cancel any elective surgeries. Some local and state governments have implemented stricter rules.

If it's possible to keep your appointment and speak with your provider over the phone or video, you should. However, if you cannot speak with a provider remotely and are able to reschedule your in-person appointment for a later date, you should.

Of the more than 586,000 people who have been infected worldwide, more than 26,000 have died. That's a death rate of about 4.6%. The WHO has previously estimated the rate at about 3.4%.

The death rate, however, varies widely based on age, health and geographic location. People who are older or who have preexisting conditions are at higher risk of severe illness.

Scientists aren't sure yet. For many viruses, including the MERS virus, patients are unlikely to be re-infected shortly after they recover because a protective antibody is generated in those who are infected. But scientists still need to do more research to determine if this is also the case with COVID-19 and how long those antibodies may last.

"However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long. For many patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse," said Li QinGyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing.

Poland agreed, saying the chance of reinfection is "very likely."

In the U.S., influenza has caused 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010, according to the CDC. So far this flu season in the U.S., there have been at least 38 million flu illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from flu, according to the CDC.

Depending on the type of surface, the virus can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, according to the WHO. A recent study by scientists in the U.S. found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. 

However, a subsequent report from the CDC found that genetic material from the virus can live on surfaces for more than two weeks. The CDC found traces of the virus' RNA, not the coronavirus itself, on surfaces in the cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship – 17 days after passengers had left the cabins.

It's possible that you can become infected if you touch your face after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, according to the CDC. But scientists don't think surfaces are the main way that the virus spreads; the most common form of infection is from respiratory droplets spread by a person's cough or sneeze, the CDC reports.

Meanwhile, the WHO says it is very unlikely that the virus will persist on a surface after being moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures. That means the virus cannot spread through goods manufactured in China or any country reporting coronavirus cases.

At the same time, the WHO is reportedly encouraging people to use as many digital payment options as possible. Viruses can survive on hard surfaces like coins for days in some cases. U.S dollars, a blend of fabric and paper, are harder for viruses to stick to.

Among the more than 4,000 cases in the U.S. as of March 16, only 5% were people aged 0–19 years, according to the CDC. Just 2%–3% of cases in that age group had to be hospitalized, and none were in the ICU.

This week, however, health officials reported that a 17-year-old teen in New Orleans died after contracting the virus. And a 2-month-old in Nashville who tested positive for the virus could be the youngest patient in the nation, officials say. In China, at least one two-day-old infant had been infected, according to a WHO study.

If you have symptoms and want to get tested, the CDC recommends calling your state or local health department or a medical provider.

Not sure if you should get tested? The CDC website features a "self-checker" to help you make decisions about seeking medical care. The feature is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 and is intended only for people in the U.S.

The current outbreak is the world's first pandemic caused by a coronavirus, a family of virsuses that includes the COVID-19 virus, according to the head of the WHO.

While more people in the U.S. were infected by and died after contracting the flu in 1968 and 2009, the new coronavirus has infected and killed more people in the U.S. than did SARS, MERS, Ebola or Zika.

By comparison, the 1968 "Hong Kong flu" pandemic was caused by an influenza A virus and killed an estimated 1 million people worldwide, with about 100,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC. The 2009 "swine flu" pandemic was caused by an H1N1 subtype of the influenza A virus and killed at least 151,000 people worldwide during the first year the virus circulated, with more than 12,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC

How old was the youngest person to die from the virus?

– Larry from Knob Noster, Missouri

A study of more than 72,000 cases in mainland China found that at least one person between ten and 19 years of age had died, but no one younger than ten had died. A subsequent study in the journal Pediatrics found that a 14-year-old boy from China died in February after contracting the coronavirus.

It was not immediately clear if anyone younger had died elsewhere in the world.

By comparison, at least 155 children in the U.S. have died after contracting the flu so far this flu season, according to the CDC.

Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter @grace_hauck

Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY


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