It isn’t that long ago that the worst a coronavirus could do to humans was infect us with the common cold.
However, since the beginning of the 21st century, novel coronaviruses have evolved that are capable of creating a deadly pandemic—enter SARS in 2003, and MERS in 2012. Now, the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV has manifested itself in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
As of Jan. 29, there are 5,578 confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus, with 131 deaths.
The virus is difficult to detect, as early symptoms of infection such as fever and cough are no different than those of common flu viruses affecting large parts of the population.
There are still many questions and many unknowns about the virus. And if you do contract it, you can feel extremely unwell, or just mildly sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by what is known as “respiratory droplets.”
“When person-to-person spread has occurred with similar viruses like SARS, it is thought to have happened mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread,” a CDC spokesman said.
In the absence of fast diagnostic tests, fever clinics set up in Wuhan are paying attention to anyone with a fever of 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, a marker in most cases of pneumonia. The patient is then questioned about possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Just like the flu virus, the new coronavirus is spreading through both direct and indirect contact.
The clinical information gained from China only gives details of those with moderate to worst cases of pneumonia. To help control the spread of the disease, authorities need to determine how easily the virus can be spread.
Two studies released on Jan. 24—one about 41 infected patients and the other on a family cluster of six separate from those 41—provide both clues and concerns, reports Foreign Policy. Disturbing information is coming to light regarding the origin of the virus.
There have been several cases that didn’t present with any fever, including a 10-year-old girl who exhibited no symptoms, meaning the virus could be spread before any symptom picture presents, making fever screening not totally effective. A puzzling but positive aspect is the lack of children becoming obviously infected, usually children because of their immature immune systems will easily catch a viral infection. Many adults do have compromised immune systems due to chronic illness, making them susceptible to viral infection.
If nonsymptomatic victims of the coronavirus are unknowingly spreading the infection, it may be a dangerous assumption to use fever as the main marker.
When people start to display symptoms, the initial ones are fever, dry cough, myalgia (muscle pain), and fatigue. Productive cough (a cough that produces phlegm) and headache are infrequent, hemoptysis (coughing up blood) and diarrhea occasional. Usually, it takes about a week before the victim feels unwell enough to seek medical attention.
In the second week of infection after the initial symptoms, the virus quickly causes breathing difficulties and the need for oxygen treatment. Between one-quarter and a third of those patients then require treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU) for mechanical ventilation and sometimes ECMO (pumping blood through an artificial lung for oxygenation).
Informing the general public and educating them on the best ways to avoid becoming infected is the best approach to controlling the spread of the infection, reported ABC.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Surgical masks may help prevent infection, but need to be fitted correctly and cover the eyes as well.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Keep your hands as clean as possible, thorough washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school, especially when someone is sick.
- If you have come into contact with someone who might have coronavirus, you can find more detailed advice here.