According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the current novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak isn’t a global health emergency yet but it’s an emergency in China. He further said that WHO is committed to its end as soon as possible.
But with the rising death toll in China and the spread of 2019-nCoV, also known as the Wuhan virus, in other countries, many people are afraid about its negative effects on their health and lives. The spread of fake news on social media doesn’t help matters, too!
To fight it, here are the reliable answers to the questions you have likely been asking about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
Where Was It First Identified?
The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province in Central China, and it has since spread to more than a dozen countries as of this writing including Canada, Cambodia, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and the United States.
In China alone, the Chinese authorities have reported that there are no more than 2,700 infected people and more than 100 people have died. But disease modeling experts from Imperial College, London have suggested that these are conservative numbers – according to their report, more than 4,000 people could be infected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the initial cases of the Wuhan virus are associated with the Hua Nan Seafood Market where exotic animals are sold for food. The outbreak likely began from the transmission of the virus from animals to humans, known as a spillover incident. The scenario has similarities with the spread of ebola, which spilled over from bats and primates to humans; MERS, from camels to humans; and SARS from palm civets to humans.
While the Wuhan market was shut down on January 1, 2020, ostensibly to restrict the spread of the 2019-nCoV, the city has become the epicenter of the outbreak, an indication that the virus can also spread via human contact.
What Is a Coronavirus?
Emphasis must be made that coronaviruses aren’t new in the medical field – coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections and their symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. At present, scientists have identified seven coronaviruses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS); SARS killed 774 during its 2002-2003 outbreak while MERS killed 858 since 2012 when it was first identified.
The 2019-nCoV is, however, different from these viruses in the sense that it’s a new disease that scientists haven’t seen in people before. The novelty, so to speak, is what makes the 2019-nCoV a source of concern.
How Fatal Is the 2019-nCoV?
For now, there’s no black-and-white answer because, again, of its newness. During a January 27, 2020 press conference, WHO officials stated that about 4% of people who are infected with 2019-nCoV die; in contrast, the case fatality rates for SARS and MERS are at around 11% and 35% respectively.
But there’s little room for complacency as the rate can change because authorities don’t know the number of infected people and the number who will die as a result of the disease in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, authorities know that the most vulnerable cohorts – or those who have high chances of death once infected – are those who have weakened or compromised immune systems. These include people with underlying medical conditions as well as the young and elderly.
How Does the 2019-nCoV Spread?
Again, there’s no definite answer yet as scientists are still in the process of figuring it out including answering questions about how it’s transmitted and how fast it’s transmitted between persons. But there are a few known aspects of its transmission – for one thing, it moves from one person to the next (and not just animal-to-human transmission) because more than a dozen health workers in Wuhan who cared for patients have become infected and some of the infected persons have never even visited the Hua Nan Seafood Market.
Take note that coronaviruses are transmitted through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If the 2019-nCoV works in a similar manner, then certain safety measures can be made to reduce the risk of infection.
Face masks, for example, can offer a certain level of protection. But be sure to use the right face mask – choose face masks with respiratory valves since these are more effective than N95 masks and regular surgical masks; N95 masks are for filtering out ashes while regular surgical masks offer less protection. But if face masks with respiratory masks aren’t available, then regular surgical masks are better than nothing.
Furthermore, it’s important to frequently wash your hands and to avoid rubbing your nose, mouth, and eyes with your hands since these are also known transmission modes for coronaviruses. The droplets from sneezes and coughs can also end up on frequently touched surfaces, such as countertops and tables, too so there’s a further emphasis on frequent handwashing.
There’s also new information that increases the risk of transmission. According to China’s National Health Commission (NHC), 2019-nCoV is also contagious even before an infected person shows or experiences symptoms. The implication: 2019-nCoV may spread more easily since infected persons may not be able to adopt preventive measures to reduce the risk of transmission to others.
What Are the Symptoms to Look Out For?
The typical symptoms linked to 2019-nCoV are fever, cough and difficulty breathing, which are similar to the flu, common cold and pneumonia as well as SARS and MERS. But people who have traveled to or near Wuhan and other sites in China with known 2019-nCoV outbreaks should seek immediate medical attention.
Note: Only the CDC laboratories are authorized to confirm 2019-nCoV cases.
As of now, some of the national governments in affected areas have taken steps to contain the spread of 2019-nCoV. American citizens are advised to avoid all non-essential travels to China; many Chinese cities are now in full lockdown with millions of travelers leaving China, a potentially problematic scenario since the 2019-nCoV can spread farther; and Mongolia has closed its borders with China, among others. Stricter monitoring of arrivals from China in ports, airports, and terminals are also in place in countries like the Philippines and Taiwan; people suspected of being infected by 2019-nCoV are also placed in quarantine.
These steps aren’t considered as extreme for now because there are no vaccines and specific treatment for 2019-nCoV.
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