Article by Puja Chandra Nanda
Information from correct sources, backed by expert know-how is the first step to understanding and dealing with any problem head-on, even a global health emergency such as the one we are facing – the novel coronovirus. Here is a recap for our readers of what we have learnt from official sources about this highly contagious virus so far:
1.The novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV which has infected more than 40000 people worldwide is a new, unknown virus from the large family of coronaviruses – that cause the common cold, influenza and other respiratory infections. The coronavirus was also responsible for the SARS pandemic (2003), H1N1 swine flu (2009), MERS (2012)and the Ebola outbreak (2014-2016).
2. 2019-nCoV originated in Wuhan, Hubei province in China and can be traced to a seafood market which also housed and sold wild animals. Studies point to a likely initial transmission of the virus from bats and pangolins to humans. The virus soon mutated to spark human to human transmission. China reported large number of cases of pneumonia and the presence of an unknown virus to WHO & the world on 31st December, 2019.
3. As on 11th February, 2020, the virus has infected over 40000 people across 27 countries globally with the maximum number of cases reported at Hubei province in China -which is the epicenter of the disease outbreak. In China, total no. of deaths have exceeded 1000, surpassing the global tally for SARS. Only 2 deaths have been reported outside China. Live tracking maps help to update us of the numbers.
4. Singapore reported its first confirmed case on 23 rd January, 2020 just as the country was set to celebrate the Lunar New Year. As on 11th Feb, Singapore has reported 47 confirmed cases out of which 25 are locally transmitted (they have no travel history to China or immediate contact with anyone from Wuhan). 9 persons have recovered and are discharged. Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON)code to Orange on 7th February, 2020, which is a notch lower than Red.
5. The 2019-nCoV is more contagious than the SARS virus but less dangerous in terms of mortality. Outside Hubei province of China, death rate is 0.2% which is closer to mortality for seasonal flu and much lower than mortality rate of 10% for SARS.
6. The virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets – mucous or saliva of a person sneezing or coughing nearby. The virus can transmit within a radius of 2m after which it is likely to dry. It can also be transmitted through surface contact, where a non-infected person touches the surface which is contaminated by the droplets of an infected person and subsequently touches his/her face, where the virus can enter the system through the eyes, nose or mouth.
7. The virus is said to thrive in cold and dry conditions. On metals, wood and plastic the virus can survive for many days if in ideal conditions such as confined, air conditioned spaces. Heat above 30degrees and humidity above 80% can destroy the virus, which is why exposing surfaces to sunlight and allowing good circulation is a good way to disinfect.
8. The initial symptoms of the 2019-nCoV include cough, soreness of throat, runny nose, headache and fever, which are common to symptoms of flu and thus make early diagnosis difficult. Complications that may follow include pneumonia, difficulty in breathing, impaired liver and kidney function and kidney failure. Those with lower immunity or existing medical conditions might be more at risk of complications.
9. In Singapore the median age of infected persons is 41 years with the youngest patient being 6 months old and the oldest being 71 years old. Worldwide, the median age is between 49 to 56 years. It is being said that the low number of children found to be infected by the virus is due to milder symptoms, making it harder to detect.
10. Since it is a contagious disease easily spread through respiratory droplets, the best form of protection is practicing good personal hygiene- such as washing hands regularly, staying away from crowded places especially from people with flu-like symptoms and additionally disinfecting surfaces at home, workplace and public places.
There are still several unknowns about the novel coronovirus that medical researchers and experts around the world are trying to unravel, just as we read this article. For example there is no clear consensus over the incubation period of the virus, the most accepted contention being 14 days though some studies suggest incubation period of 24 days. There are also questions about other modes of transmission and symptoms as the situation is still evolving.