With the Coronavirus infection spreading, we need to be armed with information about it. Here’s everything you need to know about the Novel Coronavirus.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll have heard about the Coronavirus outbreak in China, which has been rapidly spreading to other parts of the world. Yesterday, the first case of Coronavirus in India was confirmed, in a student who had returned from the epicenter of the outbreak, a place called Wuhan in China.
As of 31st January 2020, there are over 9,700 confirmed cases of Coronavirus worldwide, the bulk of them being in mainland China. 22 countries including India have been affected so far, and over 200 people have succumbed to the disease till date. (Source: CNN)
These numbers have led to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the Coronavirus an international health emergency on 30th January 2020. This means two things mainly – 1) The virus has the potential to spread internationally and 2) All world countries should step up their health care systems to deal with the virus outbreak.
Now, while this does indicate the seriousness of the problem, there’s no need to panic. We know that a lack of information is one of the main reasons to get alarmed, so today we’ll try to understand a little more about what the Coronavirus is and what we should do about it.
Coronavirus actually refers to a group of viruses, which affect birds and mammals. Six viruses in this group are known to infect humans. This group includes other virus outbreaks we’ve heard of, including SARS and MERS. The current outbreak is of the 2019-nCoV, also known as the Novel Coronavirus or Wuhan Coronavirus.
The Novel Coronavirus is called so because it is relatively new to us. It is believed to have originated in Wuhan’s meat and seafood market, which deals in live animals of various kinds – chickens, rabbits, marmots, bats and snakes. Any of these animals could have been the source of the current outbreak.
This coronavirus is zoonotic, which means it spreads from animals to humans. The rapid spread of the virus proves that it can be transmitted from human to human as well. The cases so far show that the following people are more vulnerable to the coronavirus:
- Patients of any kind of heart condition
- People who have damaged blood vessels due to a stroke or heart disease
- Long term smokers
- People with weak lungs due to a disease
- People with compromised immunity systems
The coronavirus is transmitted through fluids. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets of saliva or mucus are released into the air. They can fall on anyone nearby, and can be either inhaled directly, or transferred when the person touches his or her mouth or face.
Another mode of transmission is via surfaces, like bus seats, door knobs or desks, although this can only occur if the virus can survive on such surfaces for a long time. There is not enough information about the coronavirus in this regard.
The Novel Coronavirus infection is similar to a respiratory infection. It shows the following symptoms, which usually appear in the order listed:
- Dry Cough
- Sore Throat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle ache
As you can see, these symptoms are similar to those of a common cough and cold. So far, the new Wuhan Coronavirus is not as fatal as previous coronavirus outbreaks like SARS or MERS. However, the symptoms can get severe in some cases, causing pneumonia leading to death.
As of now, there is no specific treatment for the Novel Coronavirus, and treatment is based on managing symptoms as they appear. Since the symptoms resemble those of a cold, the treatment is also along the same lines:
- OTC drugs for fever or sore throat
- Drink fluids
- Humidifier to ease congestion
In some cases, doctors may prescribe antiviral medication.
The incubation period of the coronavirus – the time between infection and appearance of symptoms – is between 1-14 days. This means that a person can be infectious even if he or she appears healthy. This is why it is extremely important to take steps to prevent getting infected with the virus.
Since the Novel Coronavirus is fairly new and we still don’t have any treatment for it, preventing the infection from spreading is of the utmost importance. For this, we need to stop any infected person from coming in contact with others.
The government has instructed all travelers from China to report to their nearest health center so they can be screened before they are left to roam freely in the community. Suspected cases are kept under observation and tests are conducted to confirm any infection. If the tests come back positive, the patients are placed in isolation ward and provided treatment.
When a patient is diagnosed with coronavirus, the doctors and other officials have to do ‘contact tracing’, i.e. identifying all the people who the patient may have been in contact with over the past several days. All those people will have to be informed and tested as well.
Since this can be a complicated process, it is best if each one of us takes steps to ensure our individual health and follow these basic steps.
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water, following the right procedure
- Avoid contact with anyone who shows symptoms of cough, cold, fever or other respiratory illness
- Avoid large gatherings like weddings
- When coughing or sneezing, cover the mouth and nose with a tissue and discard it immediately
- If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into the crook of your elbow
- Avoid touching the mouth, eyes or face
- Stay away from markets of live animals and zoos
- Consume meat, seafood and eggs only after cooking it thoroughly
Scientists in China and the United States are working on creating vaccines and anti-viral drugs to fight the outbreak. Lopinavir and Ritonavir were two drugs that worked with SARS, and are being tested currently.
Not every cough and cold is a sign of a coronavirus infection. However, if you have fever, cough or respiratory issue and may have come in contact with a person from a place with Coronavirus infection, it’s best to contact your local government hospital or health center.
Please, please do not believe unverified news circulating on Whatsapp or social media. This only serves to spread panic without helping anyone. Get your information from reliable sources and check the notifications of your local government bodies for latest information in your area.