The new virus is a close relative of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which first emerged in China in 2002 and resulted in more than 800 deaths. Much has been learnt from the SARS outbreak, which brought trade and travel to a halt for over 6 months and crippled the global economy. Initially the Chinese authorities hushed up and downplayed the SARS outbreak, enabling it to have such an international impact. Consequently, the Chinese are now acting fast to try and contain this latest viral outbreak.
China has now placed Wuhan province in lock-down – however, the virus has a 1-2 week incubation period and so unfortunately this may be too late to contain the spread. Cases of the virus have already occurred in the US, Australia, France and seven other Asian Countries, but so far, there have not deaths outside China. As of the 25th January there were 41 deaths in China, with a total of over 1,300 individuals known to have been infected. By the 26th January there were 51 deaths with over 2000 deaths and the cases of infection are accelerating. Because of the delayed incubation period, during which people are infectious, it is feared that within a further week, that over 200,000 people could be affected.
Hong Kong has declared a health emergency and closed schools. Hong Kong has also suspended all flights and train services to Wuhan and cancelling the Lunar New Year celebrations. The Hong Kong Marathon, originally scheduled for early February, has also been cancelled.
Chinese scientists have swiftly isolated the pathogen and shared details of it with the world, to enable other countries to prepare for a possible pandemic.
The Coronavirus is so far exhibiting a 3% mortality rate – similar to the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918 which killed 3-5% of the World’s population. Currently we do not know just how virulent and dangerous this new virus is, unfortunately only time will tell.
We also need to keep an eye on MERS, an even more destructive virus discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012 – however, this currently appears to be less easily caught – only spread by close contact.
MERS, was originally transmitted from touching infected camels or consuming their meat or milk.
SARS was first reported in 2002 in southern China (no new cases have been reported since 2004) and is thought to have spread from bats that infected civets.
The new coronavirus was likely transmitted from touching or eating infected animals or snakes in Wuhan.
Coronaviruses belong to a family of viruses that are responsible for a variety of respiratory illnesses, including the common cold. The Cente for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the majority of people will be infected with some form of coronavirus during their lifetime, but for most people, symptoms are generally relatively mild. However, the viruses can lead to respiratory complications such as pneumonia, which can make someone seriously ill and kill them.
Coronaviruses are common amongst animals worldwide. Occasionally, coronaviruses mutate and spread from animals to humans. This is what happened with MERS and SARS, both of which are coronaviruses known to cause more severe symptoms in humans.
According to the Journal of Medical Virology, scientists currently think this outbreak may have mutated from a virus known in snakes. This is yet to be confirmed. The virus is thought to be a mutation from an animal virus and it was originally contracted by people who had visited a local seafood and animal market in Wuhan.
If you have been in contact with someone with the virus and have contracted it – you are likely to be contagious even before you are showing symptoms. The incubation period is thought to be around 1-2 weeks.
Symptoms of the new coronavirus include flu-like symptoms such as fever, dry cough, sneezing, weakness, malaise and difficulty breathing.
Severe complications usually involve pneumonia. Therefore, if you are experiencing increasing breathlessness and a more productive cough, you should obtain prompt medical advice – ideally by calling 111.
Generally, sufferers do not experience upper respiratory tract symptoms like a blocked or runny nose. It is possible that they may experience diarrhoea. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30154-9/fulltext
There are no specific medicinal treatments for coronavirus infections and most people will recover on their own. However, the Chinese authorities in Wuhan are currently building two 1,000 bed hospitals to isolate patients and treat those experiencing severe respiratory complications.
For most sufferers – treatment involves rest and over the counter medication to relieve symptoms.
Increase fluids and rest but if you are worried about your symptoms, you should seek advice from a healthcare provider.
Do not go to your GP Practice or A&E – but isolate yourself at home and phone for advice.
The authorities will arrange to treat you without you posing an infection risk to other people.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the new coronavirus, but companies are currently working to develop these.
Until recently, patients who have died from the infection have been older, or with pre-existing conditions. However, a younger healthy man of just 36, has just died from the virus in Wuhan, thereby alerting health authorities that the virus could prove a major threat to the population. One of the fatalities is a 62 year old doctor who is thought to have been treating the casualties. The virus affects all ages.
Currently it is thought that the virus is most easily caught by eating infected animal meat.
However, it is thought it can be passed from human to human in the following ways:
—through droplet infection from viral particles in a cough or sneeze
—close personal contact (touching or shaking hands with someone with the virus on their hands);
—touching an object or surface with viral particles on it (then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands);
—and possibly from faecal contamination.
Therefore, the easiest way to prevent spread, is by good personal hygiene. Covering your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze – or wearing face masks and ensuring you are vigilant about regularly washing your hands or using sanitising hand gels.
The Chinese government has stopped most of the travel to and from Wuhan as well as 12 other nearby cities. This containment is likely to affect around 35 million people.
Airports worldwide are screening travellers from China and isolating any showing signs of a fever or raised temperature.
Anyone who thinks they may have contracted the virus is urged to obtain medical advice over the phone and be honest about your concerns. The health professionals will ensure you get the most appropriate care and support without risking spreading the virus to others.