Coronavirus should we be worried about it?
Unless you are living under a proverbial stone, you’ll be wondering what exactly is the Coronavirus, what symptoms are caused by the virus from Wuhan in China and how is it transmitted from one person to another. Today, we’ll discuss some of the facts about this virus that has claimed tens of lives in China to date.
What is different about this virus in Wuhan?
It is a novel coronavirus – that is to say, a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city, which also sold live and newly slaughtered animals. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.
What is the Wuhan Coronavirus?
Colloquially known as the “Wuhan coronavirus” after the city where it is believed to have originated, the disease is still poorly understood, and seems to be changing rapidly. The first cases of 2019-nCoV appeared in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and likely came from some non-human animal host. Its exact source has yet to be identified.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that often cause mild respiratory symptoms (the common cold is one of them), but some can cause serious illness. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which jumped from bats to humans in China’s Guangdong Province in 2002, infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed at least 774. Experts say China’s handling of the new outbreak shows a drastic improvement in public health policy compared to the mishandling of SARS—officials denied the existence of the outbreak seemingly as long as possible and didn’t cooperate with the international community to manage the disease. While there is some question about whether officials in Wuhan moved quickly enough—and whether the central government approved the release of information as quickly as it should have—the country has been more forthcoming. Scientists were also much quicker to sequence the genome of this new virus than the one behind SARS, and released it to international research collaborators on January 10.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002 Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.
Symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus.
The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health or immunocompromised.
How is this virus transmitted?
Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, with the 14 people tested for the virus all proving negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by WHO experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be 4,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 1,000 and 9,700.
There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown. At the moment, it appears that people in poor health are at greatest risk, as is always the case with flu. A key concern is the range of severity of symptoms – some people appear to suffer only mild illness while others are becoming severely ill. This makes it more difficult to establish the true numbers infected and the extent of transmission between people. But the authorities will be keen to stop the spread and will be anxious that the virus could become more potent than it so far appears.
At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?
Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The advice is that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.
Is this any worse than normal influenza?
We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is – and we won’t know until more data comes in. Mortality rate is so far unknown. Another key unknown, of which scientists should get a clearer idea in the coming weeks, is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. One sensible step would be to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.
Is there cause for panic?
No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.
Healthcare workers could be at risk if they unexpectedly came across someone with respiratory symptoms who had travelled to an affected region. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.
At time of print, deaths climb above 170 as China records new cases.
◆ Most of those deaths, 76, were in the central province of Hubei, the center of the outbreak.
◆ Officials in the capital, Beijing, which has a population of about 21 million, announced the first death in the city from coronavirus on Monday. The patient, a 50-year-old man, had travelled to Wuhan on Jan. 8 and developed a fever after returning to Beijing a week later. He was diagnosed on Jan. 22 and died of respiratory failure, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission announced.
◆ Across China there have been 7,711 confirmed cases, of which 1,423 cases were in Hubei. The youngest confirmed case is a 9-month-old girl in Beijing.
◆ The mayor of Wuhan said there were about 3,000 patients in the city being treated for the virus. Half of those patients, he said, would eventually test positive for the disease.
◆ Thailand and Hong Kong have each reported eight cases of infection; the United States, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have five each; Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported four; France has three; Canada and Vietnam have two, and Nepal and Cambodia each have one.
◆ There have been no deaths from the virus reported outside China.
Hopefully, Wexford will remain Coronavirus-free. In the meantime, keep your hygiene as good as possible as well as hand washing thoroughly and coughing/sneezing into a tissue (that is thrown away quickly), these measures help prevent the transmission of many viruses and bacteria. If you have a temperature or cough or cold symptoms, then don’t panic. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen along with high dose vitamin C and lots of rest and fluids to fend off the potential infection. Grant’s Pharmacy is here to help so pop in and ask for advice on the best treatment for your personal case. We are located in Wexford, Enniscorthy, Gorey and Arklow.
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