There has been a new outbreak of a virus in China, with affected people suffering from viral pneumonia with no prior symptoms. It is reported to have caused over 170 deaths in Wuhan. The virus responsible for this outbreak has been identified as a novel coronavirus (nCov) and it is also reported to have traveled to countries like Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a common kind of virus that is known to cause infection in the nose, upper throat, and sinuses. This virus was initially identified in the 1960s, although it isn’t known where they originate from. They are shaped like crowns, which is where their name originates from. It is possible for coronavirus to affect both humans and animals, although it isn’t that often. Mostly, coronaviruses aren’t considered dangerous.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic in nature. They may cause something like a mild respiratory infection or even something as lethal as is being seen in Wuhan, China. The way these viruses spread is the same as any other virus that causes cold, i.e., through sneezing and coughing by the infected people, by touching the face and hand of an infected individual, or by touching objects like doorknobs that have been touched by infected people.
Nearly every individual gets infected by coronavirus at least once in their life. You are likely to get infected during your childhood. Coronavirus may be more common during winter and fall, although it is possible for anyone to get infected at any time. Mostly, infection isn’t that serious.
Certain types of coronaviruses, however, can be serious. Around 858 individuals died from MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which initially appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and then in other countries in Asia, Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The largest outbreak of MERS outside the Arabian Peninsula happened in Korea in May 2015. An outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003 caused the death of 774 people. There haven’t been further reported cases of SARS after that.
The most recent type of coronavirus to have caused an outbreak is novel coronavirus (nCov), which was identified in 2020 after an outbreak in December 2019 in China. It has been suggested that nCov originated from Wuhan’s seafood market, where wildlife was alleged to be illegally sold. Presently, it is not definitively known which animals are responsible for the outbreak. However, scientists have compared this new coronavirus with previous versions and suggest that snakes might have started spreading the virus.
The family of respiratory viruses known as coronaviruses can cause symptoms related to a common cold or even something like the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
The symptoms of upper respiratory infection are more common and they include runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and even a fever. In mild cases, you will not even know you have suffered from coronavirus specifically. Of course, lab tests can be performed, including blood work and throat and nose cultures, for finding out whether coronavirus has caused the cold. However, you don’t necessarily have to. No matter the test results, symptoms will be treated in the same manner and they usually go away within a few days.
In case the coronavirus spreads on to the lower respiratory tract (lungs and windpipe), it can potentially cause pneumonia, particularly in older individuals and people with weakened immune systems or heart disease.
As per the recent Wuhan outbreak, the primary signs and symptoms that have been reported include trouble breathing, fever and bilateral lung infiltrates shown in chest radiographs. However, there isn’t much known about n-Cov and its epidemiology. Hence, definitive conclusions cannot be drawn regarding the outbreak’s original source and the intensity of transmission among humans. In cases of severe infection, n-Cov is said to cause pneumonia, kidney failure, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even death.
In particular, travelers who experience symptoms of acute respiratory illness during, after or even before travel, should seek immediate medical attention. It is important to share your travel history with your healthcare provider.
While the exact source of n-Cov is not yet known, but it is most commonly spread in the following ways from an infected individual:
- Sneezing and coughing without covering the mouth disperses droplets in the air, through which the virus spreads
- Personal contact like shaking hands or touching an individual who has the virus can cause it to pass from one individual to another.
- Touching a surface or object that has the virus, and then touching your nose, mouth, eyes without washing your hands causes the virus to spread
- In some rare cases, coronaviruses may spread through fecal contamination.
If you are experiencing symptoms, you should rest at home to prevent transmission and avoid close contact with other people. Make sure you cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or a tissue when you cough or sneeze to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. It is important to maintain hygiene and dispose of the tissues you use.
Since the 2019 n-Cov is a new strain of coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans, there is currently no vaccination for treating the infection. Doctors, scientists, and researches are still studying the virus and working on its treatment.
There isn’t a specific treatment for the infection that coronavirus causes in humans. In cases of common coronavirus, people tend to recover on their own. However, you can do the following to relieve the symptoms:
- Take medications for fever and pain. Children should not be given aspirin.
- To help with the cough and sore through, you can take a hot shower or use a room humidifier
- Make sure you stay at home to get the rest you need to recover
- Make sure you drink fluids in sufficient amounts.
If the symptoms seem to be too concerning, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
To prevent coronavirus from spreading, it is recommended to wash your hand regularly, cover your nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, avoiding close contact with individuals with symptoms of respiratory illnesses like sneezing and coughing, and cooking eggs and meats thoroughly.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with coronavirus and have traveled to any of the affected countries recently, you should notify your healthcare provider and share your entire history. The standard precautions to maintain include:
- Ensure adequate respiratory and hand hygiene
- Make sure your environment is clean always
- If any of the symptoms do prevail, wearing a medical mask is recommended
- Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing
- Wash and clean your hands properly after contact with respiratory secretions. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and warm water.
- Avoid getting in close contact with individuals showing flu and cold symptoms.
Travelers have to be specifically careful when traveling via, from or to China. It is strongly recommended for travelers to report to the nearest health facility if they end up showing symptoms. If you are traveling to Wuhan or any other infected area, here are the precautions you need to maintain:
- Avoid coming in contact with people who are sick
- Avoid animals (dead or alive), products coming from animals like uncooked meat, and animal markets.
- Frequently wash hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds. If water and soap aren’t available readily, an alcohol-based sanitizer can be used.
- People with some underlying health problems and older individuals have a higher risk of severe disease from the infection. These people should have a serious discussion regarding their travel to infected areas with their healthcare providers.
What to do if you are pregnant?
Pregnant women are known to be hypochondriac as they are concerned about the well-being of their babies. However, when the news of an outbreak of a virus is all over the place, you can’t help but be concerned. If you are pregnant, you will likely have some questions about the coronavirus outbreak and what it signifies for your pregnancy.
Currently, it is still early days to make definitive conclusions regarding the effects of coronavirus on pregnancy. Having said that, a pregnant woman is immunocompromised, which means she is more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications caused by coronaviruses. Hence, the best advice in this scenario would be to follow the standard precautions, which include practicing good overall hygiene.
It is also recommended to do your best to avoid crowded areas, where there isn’t ideal air circulation. If you do have to go to such a place, it won’t be a bad idea to get some additional protection by wearing a mask.
Even if you end up contracting coronavirus, it is not likely to have an impact on your baby. Respiratory viruses aren’t known to cross the fetus. Still, it is better to avoid complications of infections, for the safety of your baby and you.