- The Coronavirus outbreak in China has recently been confirmed as being capable of spreading from human to human. Symptoms that should necessitate urgent medical attention include fever and breathing difficulties, while dots often appear on chest x-rays of infected patients as the disease rapidly spreads to both lungs.
- Should you, or someone you know who recently traveled to an area experiencing an outbreak of the Coronavirus, experience fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose or breathlessness, seeking medical attention is strongly advised so that diagnosis and treatment can be carried out.
- Everybody should receive an annual influenza vaccination because influenza is one of the most common viral infections and can also cause a range of other health complications. Moreover, the elderly should receive a pneumonia vaccination as they have weaker immune systems than the general population.
The outbreak of a respiratory virus currently spreading across China began on 3 January 2020, with infected patients suffering from breathing difficulties similar to those experienced by 44 patients in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, 11 of whom were left in a critical condition. This outbreak has led to public health authorities around the world taking notice due to similarities with the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak.
A recent academic article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 29, 2020 discussed 2019-nCoV in Wuhan and concluded that the majority of infected patients are elderly, with approximately 56 percent male and 44 percent female.
The majority of cases (55 percent) with onset before January 1, 2020, were linked to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Only 8.6 percent of subsequent cases, i.e. those with onset of the disease occurring after January 1, 2020, show a possibility of human-to-human transmission. The average incubation period is 5.2 days.
This 2019 outbreak is the 7th strain of the Coronavirus capable of spreading to humans. Although we do not yet know how humans first contracted this strain of the disease, there are a number of factors that can place someone at risk of becoming infected, including contact with an infected patient or contact with surfaces contaminated by the mucous, saliva and phlegm of infected patients. Furthermore, there are a number of ways this virus can enter the body, including through the nose, mouth and eyes. Exposure to coughs, sneezes, and air pollution like that found in PM2.5 can also spread the virus.
A person suffering from a cold or respiratory infection may display the following symptoms, depending on the type of virus contracted:
- The common cold tends to cause fever alongside a runny and/or blocked nose, coughing and sneezing, with the high fever tending to last around 2–4 days before dissipating.
- Influenza usually causes high fever, aching body and headaches, with subsequent symptoms including sore throat and coughing. Some also suffer from a runny nose. During the initial 2–3 days, influenza is difficult to distinguish from the Coronavirus, so if symptoms do not subside after 3–4 days it is recommended that patients seek medical attention.
- SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) has an incubation period of around 2–7 days, after which victims tend to experience fever above 38 degrees Celsius, as well as severe headaches, exhaustion and lung infections. SARS can ultimately be fatal.
If someone in your family experiences symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and breathlessness after returning from Wuhan (or anywhere in China), it is advised that they seek urgent medical attention in order to receive immediate diagnosis and treatment for their condition.
Protecting yourself against influenza and pneumonia
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of rest.
- Wear a protective face mask when entering built up areas or when coming into contact with infected patients (especially when they are coughing or sneezing).
- Ensure you always wash your hands with soap or alcohol-based hand gels, and avoid contact with unsanitary surfaces prior to eating.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
- Stay away from places with high levels of air pollution, especially where PM2.5 is prevalent.
- Be sure not to share the use of face towels or cutlery with others, and avoid sharing meals with infected patients.
- Avoid traveling to places or countries where there is a suspected flu outbreak. If you must visit, be sure to wear a protective face mask when in public spaces.
- Be sure to receive an annual influenza vaccination. Influenza is one of the most common viruses and can cause a wide range of other health complications.
- Young infants and the elderly should also receive a pneumonia vaccination, as this can reduce their chances of developing pneumonia by up to 75%.
What to Do About the Coronavirus
- Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses capable of infecting both people and animals. The coronavirus is categorized in the same virus group as MERS and SARS, although it currently appears to be less severe or deadly than both MERS and SARS. The mortality rate for MERS is 30 percent, and for SARS it is approximately 10 percent, while the mortality rate for the novel coronavirus 2019 is currently less than 3 percent.
- There is currently no specific treatment for the novel coronavirus. Instead doctors treat its symptoms with supportive medical care, including the administration of antipyretics, expectorants, etc. While at present there are no antiretroviral drugs or vaccines available for prevention of this disease, we should go on with our normal daily lives as much as possible and refrain from undue panic or alarm.
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