There is growing global concern about the coronavirus that has broken out in China, resulting in fear over its effect on the world’s health. From canceled flights to quarantined cities, it’s clear that this virus is causing havoc. The World Health Organization has officially declared the epidemic a global health emergency.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses were first discovered during the 1960s, and they are a family of viruses that are not necessarily lethal. They can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, and they are transmitted between animals and people.
There have only been two that have evolved and spread from animals to humans – the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS). With regard to their effect on the human population, the SARS virus affected over 5000 people in mainland China, resulting in 349 deaths. What’s more, it also affected over 1500 people in Hong Kong, and this then resulted in 286 deaths (1). With regard to MERS, the World Health Organization cites 2494 cases, with 858 associated deaths (2).
Where and when did the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) start?
The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a local seafood market in Wuhan, a large city in Eastern China. The market – which has since been shut down – had stalls that were trading in many animals, including snakes and poultry.
According to health experts, the outbreak occurred when individuals, a large number being sellers from the Wuhan market, fell ill between December 12 and 29. At this time, the animal source of the outbreak is unclear yet research published in the Journal of Medical Virology suggests snakes as the root origin.
Mode of transmission
The virus is transmitted from animal to human but it can also be transmitted between humans. What’s more, the virus is mutating thus this means that it’s spreading much quicker.
According to the CDC, 2019-nCoV can spread between an infected person and a non-infected person through coughing, sneezing, touching, and shaking hands. Additionally, touching an object with particles on the virus on it and then touching your mouth nose or eyes can also cause the virus to spread.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of the virus include;
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
Additionally, the virus can also increase the risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, severe acute respiratory syndrome, as well as death.
Seniors most at risk
But that fatality rate is likely to be higher in older adults. Unofficial open-source data from researchers based in the UK and China show that out of 41 deaths, 39 were in people over 50. Bloomberg reports similar figures. While that’s not unexpected, it indicates the need for effective therapies targeted at this population. And as the proportion of adults over 50 continues to increase globally, future pandemics could be deadlier than they’ve been in the past.”
How fast is it spreading?
At this time, there have been a total of 9776 cases reported, with 213 deaths and counting. This interactive map as of Jan 30, 2020 9:30 pm EST shows all the areas currently impacted by the coronavirus.
The majority of the cases were found in mainland China, with a staggering 9658 individuals currently battling the virus.
The United States has noted six individuals with the virus – all of whom had recently visited Wuhan. The number of cases in other countries includes:
- Thailand with 14
- Hong Kong with 12
- Japan with 11
- Singapore with 10
- Australia and Taiwan with 9
- Malaysia with 8
- Macau with 7
- South Korea with 6
- France with 5
- Germany and the United Arab Emirates with 4
- Canada with 3
- Italy, the United Kingdom and Vietnam with 2
- Cambodia, Finland, India, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, and Nepal with 1 case each.
With the rapid spreading, is there a vaccine yet?
Unfortunately not, and it might take a while before there is one. Researchers are working to make a vaccine available but it may take a year before it is fully available.
What about treatment?
According to the CDC, while there are no specific treatments for coronavirus infections, they do state that most people recover on their own through rest and medication.
What’s more, the CDC is working with health officials to better determine which patients should undergo diagnostic testing and be placed under surveillance, in hopes of increasing their chances of survival.
How can I protect myself?
If you haven’t been diagnosed with the virus and are worried about contracting it, be sure to take note of the following precautions;
- Cover all coughing and sneezing with your inner elbow.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.
- Stay away from people who have signs of a respiratory tract infection, such as runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.
- You can wear a face mask in public areas if you are concerned about risk
Additionally, if you have been confirmed to have the virus, or are being evaluated, then the CDC recommends that you;
- Stay at home
- Separate yourself from other people in your home, including using a separate bathroom
- Wear a face mask
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- Cover all coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid sharing household items
- Monitor your symptoms
What precautions are being taken?
At this point, it’s all about containing the virus and ensuring that it doesn’t spread any further. As a result, governments and health organizations have implemented strategies in an effort to contain the virus.
1. China is building a hospital specifically for patients with the virus. The hospital is set to be operational from February 3.
2. The Chinese government has temporarily banned the sale of wildlife at markets, restaurants and online.
3. Beijing has closed many tourist attractions, such as Disneyland and the Forbidden City.
4. The Chinese government has closed all forms of transport in and out of Wuhan, including buses, subways, trains, and the international airport.
5. Taiwan’s government has refused to allow anyone from the Hubei Province (Wuhan is the capital).
6. The Hong Kong government has barred residents of the Hubei Province or anyone who had visited the province in the prior 14 days from entering the city.
So, what now?
It’s realistic that both the number of cases and deaths will rise. However, it’s important not to panic and to rather take preventative measures to better protect ourselves and allow health officials to do their jobs.
Ji, W., Wang, W., Zhao, X., Zai, J. and Li, X. (2020), Homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein of the newly identified coronavirus may boost cross‐species transmission from snake to human. J Med Virol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/jmv.25682