FOCUS ON HEALTH
Novel Coronavirus: What you need to know
By Heather Aspinall Robinson
Public concern remains high as the world turns its attention to the newly emerged Coronavirus. This new coronavirus has caused an outbreak that started in Hubei, China and subsequently spread to several countries in recent months. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern”. The number of illness and deaths continue to increase despite public health measures that have been put in place, further adding to the public concern. Here are some things you should know about the new coronavirus, and how to protect yourself and others from Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
What are Coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses in people and animals. They are not new viruses. They common in animals such as cattle, camels, bats, and small mammals. On rare occasions, coronaviruses that infect animals can cross species to infect human, then spread between people to become a new human coronavirus. This was the case in 2002 with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that was transmitted from civet cats, and in 2012 with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) that jumped from dromedary camels. According to researchers, this new virus likely came from bats. Research to determine how it jumped to humans is still ongoing although it has been reported that the outbreak likely originated in a large animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China. Currently, seven coronaviruses (including this new strain) are known to infect people.
How is the new Coronavirus spread between people?
The virus appears to be spread mainly from person-to-person via respiratory droplets when people who are in close, prolonged contact cough or sneeze, or through discharge from the nose or droplets of saliva. Spread may also occur through touching an object or surface that is contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. The length of time that the virus can survive on surfaces is currently unknown, but early information suggests it may survive a few hours or more and is easily killed by everyday household disinfectants.
A major study conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the illness is more easily spread than SARS and MERS, but less fatal.
Can I become seriously ill with COVID-19?
Illness may range from mild common cold symptoms such as cough, runny nose, fever and sore throat to severe respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, or breathing difficulties. In more critical cases, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome or kidney failure may develop. It appears that most people will get mild illness. As reported by WHO, 82 per cent of about 17, 000 cases in China had mild illness, while 15 per cenrt were severely ill, and three per cent had critical illness. Compared to the 2002 outbreak of SARS, COVID-19 appears to have a lower death rate. About 10 per cent of infected people died during the SARS outbreak, compared to two per cent of those infected with this new coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. But because the number of people infected by the COVID-19 virus is far more than those affected by the SARS virus, the number of people who have died from it is already higher than the number of deaths from SARS.
Elderly people, and those with certain medical conditions such as, diabetes and heart disease appear to be at a higher risk of becoming severely ill or dying of COVID-19.
What about treatment for COVID-19?
At present, there is no vaccine or medicine to prevent or treat the infection. Treatment is aimed at relieving and treating symptoms. People with severe illness will receive supportive care. Antibiotics do not work against viruses and the influenza vaccine will not protect against coronavirus infection. The most effective way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the infection in the first place.
How can I protect myself and others from COVID?
- Wash your hands often, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95 per cent alcohol, if soap and water are not available.
- Keep unwashed hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent entry of the virus.
- Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing, sneezing and fever. Keep a distance of at leastthree feet away.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items such as, doorknobs, remotes, bathroom and toilet fixtures, counter tops, phones, tablets, and keyboards, using regular household cleaner/disinfectant.
- Cover your mouth and nose using a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Then immediately throw used tissue in a lined garbage container. Clean your hands immediately.
- Practice good food safety measures. Do not eat raw or undercooked animal products, sick animals or those that have died of diseases. Handle raw meat, animal organs, milk or eggs carefully, and avoid cross-contamination with other uncooked foods.
- If you develop a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. If you have travelled to an affected country, share your travel history with your healthcare provider.
(Heather Aspanall Robinson is a communicable disease control practitioner)