The new strain of COVID-19 (previously known as 2019 nCoV or corona virus) has infected thousands of people mostly in China killed hundreds in the country and prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency. Here’s what we know so far.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause potentially deadly diseases in mammals and birds. There are many kinds of corona viruses, but only a handful are known to affect humans.
Diseases range from the common cold to SARS which infected more than 8,000 people and killed 813 in 2002 to 2003. Another well-known corona virus is MERS which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. At nearly 2,500, its rate of infection is lower than SARS but proved deadlier. More than 850 have died from it.
In humans corona viruses are typically spread through airborne droplets of an infected person’s fluid. It’s believed SARS, MERS and this new virus were first transmitted from animal to human before being spread between humans.
It’s believed this new virus -officially 2019-nCoV- was transmitted from an animal to a human at Wuhan Huanan Haixian Pifa Shichang (seafood and live animal market) in Wuhan China. Most of the people first infected with the virus had been to the market which has been shut down.
Since then the virus has spread to others who had not been to the market. The number of human to human transmissions is rising.
So far officials are basing much of their knowledge of the coronavirus from what they know about the others. According to the World Health Organization signs of infection include a fever, cough and breathing difficulties. More severe symptoms include pneumonia and kidney failure.
But since a lot of the symptoms resembled that of the common flu, the only real way to know if you’ve been affected is to be tested. There is no specific cure for this new virus, but there are treatments available for many of its symptoms.
There are cases of people who have been treated successfully and released from hospital. Antibiotics are not effective because they only work against bacteria not viruses. But patients hospitalized for corona virus may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.
Since this virus is new there is no vaccine for it and it’s possible there won’t be one for years. People of all ages can be infected by the virus, but their symptoms are dependent on how healthy they are.
Older people with pre-existing health issues such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill once infected. Health officials say many people infected only show mild symptoms which can be effectively treated. Though the number of people infected has surpassed SARS.
This corona virus is believed to be far less deadly. The mortality rate was 10% among SARS patients and 34% among MERS patients. Right now, available statistics put the viruses mortality rate at around 2%.
Despite this the number of infections and deaths have risen every day, sometimes dramatically. The WHO has declared a global health emergency but it stressed it took the decision to help countries with weaker healthcare systems deal with the virus.
Wuhan, which is believed to be the epicenter of the virus, has been under lockdown since January 23rd. Other cities in Hubei province of which Wuhan is the capital are under lockdown, too. Road, sea and air traffic is highly restricted as Chinese authorities fight the outbreak.
Other countries have also taken big steps. Some are denying entry to people who have recently traveled to Hubei province or other parts of mainland China. A few countries are requiring those returning from China to enter quarantine.
Hongkong has taken steps to reduce the number of people coming in from mainland China but has stopped sort of fully closing its borders. Health officials say the best way to avoid the new coronavirus is to take the same measures you would use to protect yourself against the flu.
Avoid close contact with anyone with a cough or fever. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly and wear a surgical mask when going out. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of used tissues in a trash bin right after you use them.
And if you start to feel ill or show any symptoms see a doctor right away. Common sense and extra vigilance are the key to minimizing your chances of infection.
Source: South China Morning Post