• More than 17,000 people worldwide are infected with the novel coronavirus.
  • There have been more deaths in mainland China than during the SARS outbreak.
  • The World Health Organization has stepped up the fight against confusion and misinformation around the outbreak.

The novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, has now been detected in 23 countries, with more than 17,000 people confirmed to be infected.

The majority of people infected are located in China, where more people have now died from the new coronavirus than were killed by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003. So far, 362 people have died from the new coronavirus.

Wuhan, China – where the outbreak is believed to have started – is locked down, while the majority of border crossings into Hong Kong are now closed. And there is growing concern about the potential global spread of this new virus.

As fears and misconceptions spread online, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started a campaign to educate people on the new coronavirus.

Here are key things to know about the novel coronavirus.

Will eating lots of garlic help?

Can eating garlic help with the new coronavirus
Should I eat garlic to stay well? The World Health Organization has the answer.
Image: World Health Organization

Garlic is considered a healthy food with some antimicrobial properties – but there are no indications it's helping anyone fight off 2019-nCoV.

Also, vaccines against pneumonia and flu do not provide protection against the novel coronavirus, says the WHO. It's simply too new, and work on a vaccine specifically for the new virus is still in process. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos last month, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations announced a new partnership to develop vaccines for 2019-nCoV as quickly as possible.

There are still things you can do, such as washing your hands – especially if you have been sneezing. And if you are sneezing, make sure to cover and catch that sneeze. You can cup your hands over your face, or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, or into a tissue. But make sure to securely dispose of the tissue straight away.

Are there specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus
What medicines will treat the new coronavirus?
Image: World Health Organization

Can I contract the virus from letters and packages sent from China?

No. According to the WHO, people receiving post from China are not at risk of catching the new coronavirus. The WHO knows from previous analysis that coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about epidemics?

Epidemics are a huge threat to health and the economy: the vast spread of disease can literally destroy societies.

In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and to enable access to them during outbreaks.

Our world needs stronger, unified responses to major health threats. By creating alliances and coalitions like CEPI, which involve expertise, funding and other support, we are able to collectively address the most pressing global health challenges.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum to tackle global health issues? Find out more here.

What about pets? Can I catch it from them?

Can pets at home spread the new cornavirus
Can you catch the novel coronavirus from your pet?
Image: World Health Organization

The 2019-nCoV may have come from animals, but your pets are not likely to be part of the equation. The WHO says, "At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus."

There are lots of other reasons for good hygiene around pets, though. Some common bacteria can pass between animals and people, such as E.coli and Salmonella. Washing your hands with soap and water can guard against them.

Who is most at risk?

In the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, 8,422 people were infected and there were 916 deaths worldwide. The overall death rate for infected people was 11%. But for infected people 24 and younger, the death rate was just 1%, while for those aged 65+ it was 55%.

In short, anyone can catch a virus. But the effect it will have on you, and how seriously ill you might become, can be dependent on several other factors. Older people and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the new coronavirus, according to the WHO.