It seems like every season a deadly virus rears its head and causes panic across the globe.
At the moment, novel coronavirus seems to have everyone concerned. It is new and unknown and has caused acute respiratory illnesses that have resulted in death.
Cases have been confirmed in China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Nepal, Taiwan, Italy, Iran, France, United States of America and Australia plus many other countries so far, and news outlets seem to be updating this list every few hours. But do we really need to be worried?
What is novel coronavirus?
The virus that is currently in the media is being called ‘coronavirus’, however its official name is ‘novel coronavirus’. Coronaviruses are not new there are many different types of coronaviruses that already exist in humans and even more exist in animals that have not yet infected humans. Coronaviruses are responsible for a number of different upper- and lower-respiratory tract illnesses, from the common cold to illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Almost everyone is infected by a strain of coronavirus at least once in their life. So, while coronaviruses aren’t new, the frenzy around the virus exists at the moment because this particular strain has not been seen in humans before and is, at this stage, unpredictable.
How does it spread?
Typically, coronaviruses are not as infectious as influenza viruses, however scientists and doctors are still working to identify methods of transmission and the incubation period of novel coronavirus.
The virus is thought to have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan City, located in the Hubei province of China. At first, they thought that the virus was limited to people who had worked at the market. There was question about whether it had spread from animal to human, however they have confirmed that it can spread from person to person. Although they’re not exactly sure how it is spread yet, they believe it could be spread via respiratory droplets that is, coming into contact with bodily fluids produced from an infected person coughing or sneezing as with other coronaviruses. There is no vaccine against the virus yet, but scientists are working on it as we speak.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of novel coronavirus range from mild to severe, and are similar to other coronavirus illnesses. Symptoms include fever, headache, malaise, sore throat, runny nose, cough and shortness of breath. Serious complications associated with novel coronavirus include lower-respiratory tract symptoms like pneumonia, bronchitis and acute respiratory illness as well as kidney failure. While some cases have been very severe and people have died, the majority of cases have been mild illnesses.
How is it treated?
There are no specific treatments for novel coronavirus and recovery is focused on relieving symptoms and minimising transmission. Some people require hospitalisation to treat severe symptoms. As this is a virus, antibiotics are ineffective at treating the infection.
So”¦ should we be concerned?
With Chinese New Year celebrations increasing travel into, around and out of China, most people are wondering if the spread of novel coronavirus is cause for alarm. Novel coronavirus has been confirmed in several countries around the world, but experts say that while the disease has a high likelihood of being spread across the world, it may not be as deadly as other more severe strains of coronavirus, such as SARS and MERS.
The World Health Organisation are encouraging people to follow their standard disease transmission reduction recommendations which include frequent handwashing using soap and water, using a tissue or elbow to cover your mouth and nose when sneezing, and avoiding close contact with others who are unwell, including those with a fever or cough.
The WHO also advise that safe food practices should be implemented as usual, including avoiding consuming raw animal products, handling raw animal products with care and, particularly in areas with cases of novel coronavirus, avoiding direct contact with animals or surfaces that have come into contact with animals.
The Australian Department of Health have advised that if you become unwell and suspect you may have symptoms of novel coronavirus you must seek medical attention and share travel history with the health care provider.
If you are concerned about your risk of contracting novel coronavirus, please discuss this with your GP.