The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 needed more than three months to infect 100,000 people worldwide, most of them in China. But the number of cases has surged since hitting that milestone earlier this month, with health agencies reporting another 100,000 people becoming infected in just 12 days, the World Health Organization said Friday.
The picture of the virus's spread has changed markedly this month, according to the WHO's most recent data. And experts expect the number of infections to continue to rise as the U.S. and other countries improve their ability to test for the coronavirus.
For months, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak was in China's Hubei province. But Europe now has the highest rate of new cases, and more people have now died from the respiratory disease in Italy than in China.
"Italy's death toll is more than 3,400 as the country enters its 11th day in lockdown," NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome. "A decline in new cases is not expected until the end of next week."
Poggioli adds that 300 volunteer doctors are being rushed to the Lombardy region, the heart of the outbreak in Italy, to give relief to overworked medical staff there.
The European region (87,108 confirmed cases) is now poised to supplant the Western Pacific Region (92,333 cases) as the area hardest-hit by COVID-19, the WHO said in its situation report published Friday morning.
The WHO also released a graphic showing the changing source of new coronavirus cases by region worldwide, highlighting spikes in cases in Europe and the Americas since late February.
The WHO figures reflect the most recent data as of late Thursday. As of Friday morning, there were 210,000 cases worldwide, according to the WHO. The situation is even worse when viewed through a COVID-19 dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, which reports coronavirus numbers in near real time.
According to that tally, as of Friday morning, there are already nearly 250,000 cases worldwide — including 10,000 deaths from COVID-19. That dashboard also reports that some 86,000 people have recovered from the disease.
Coronavirus symptoms and prevention
To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer if a sink isn't available. The WHO says people should wear face masks only if they're sick or caring for someone who is.
"For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild illness; however, it can make some people very ill and, in some people, it can be fatal," the WHO says. "Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at risk for severe disease."
The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to the WHO include fever, dry cough, fatigue and sputum/phlegm production, as well as shortness of breath, a sore throat or headache.