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The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Explained

The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Explained

This new Coronavirus has everyone in a panic. I have received so many messages from moms asking me how to prevent infection and what symtoms to lookout for. I hope this blog post will answer some of your questions.

WHAT IS NOVEL ABOUT CORONAVIRUS? 

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that are zoonotic in origin. This means that they primarily circulate in animal populations but because viruses can mutate, they can jump species to other animals as well as humans and be transmitted through the infected animal’s poop or saliva. In humans, the virus causes respiratory symptoms, which are usually mild, but in rare cases these can be more severe. There are some strains of Coronovirus that are now endemic to humans. This means that these strains now circulate within the human population. They originated years ago from animals and cause very mild disease that more or less resembles the common cold.

The Coronavirus was actually responsible for the global epidemics of Middle East Respiratory Syndome (MERS-CoV) in 2012 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) in 2002/2003. Both of these strains originated from bats, which in turn infected camels (MERS-CoV) and civet cats (SARS-CoV) before jumping to humans.

Image Source: Timothy Sheahan, University of North Carolina

This novel Coronavirus (novel because it has never been seen before) was first isolated in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and was given its official name of 2019-nCoV. The animal source of this strain has not yet been identified but it is suspected that the source was from a live animal market in Wuhan, China where the outbreak began.

HOW DOES THE VIRUS SPREAD?

It was originally thought that this virus only spread through direct contact with the infected animal source but it has since been found that the virus is also being spread from person to person. This is occurring in people who have been in close contact with an infected patient be it a family member or healthcare worker.

Since the virus is a respiratory virus, its spread is very similar to other viruses which cause a common cold and the flu and this is through droplet spread. The virus is transmitted in tiny droplets when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, or from direct contact with nasal discharge from an infected person, or from touching of a surface contaminated with infected droplets.

You cannot get this virus from any farm or wild animal you come across in South Africa and definitely not your pets. The animal has to be infected with the virus first and the source of this strain is in Mainland China so this is not really possible.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF 2019-NCOV?

Most people with this infection seem to be experiencing a mild respiratory illness with symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough and a fever. However, some people are having a more severe infection with shortness of breath, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, kidney failure and even death. It appears that older people and people with pre-existing chronic medical conditions are at risk of more severe disease.

HOW IS 2019-NCOV DIAGNOSED?

The symptoms of 2019-nCoV disease, the flu and even the common cold are very similar, which makes it difficult to diagnose this novel coronavirus infection based on symptoms alone. The only way to make a definitive diagnosis is with laboratory testing. Swabs, sputum and aspirates need to be taken from the airways and the virus has to be isolated.

HOW CAN YOU TREAT 2019-NCOV? 

Currently, treatment is supportive since no specific treatment has been found to be effective yet. Antibiotics do not work against viruses. As we learn more about the virus other treatment options may become available.

WHO IS AT RISK OF INFECTION?

Currently to date there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in South Africa so there is no need for South Africans to panic. However, it is still possible that we may see cases later on.

People at risk include the following:

  • If you have recently been to China or in contact with someone who has travelled there, in the past 14 days.
  • If you have been in close physical contact with a person who has a lab confirmed infection or this person has been diagnosed clinically without lab testing, based on risk factors.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients who are sick with the virus.

If you are at risk, the moment you experience any flu-like symptoms you should seek medical attention.

In order to protect yourself from getting infected by this virus you should follow basic hand and respiratory hygiene as you would for any common cold and the flu. Wash your hands regularly, keep a distance from people who are coughing, sneezing and/or have a fever and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT SITUATION?

As of the 6th February 2020 there have been a total of 28, 276 confirmed cases worldwide. 28,060 of these cases are from China, 3,859 of which have been severe disease and 564 have resulted in death. Outside of China, 216 cases have been confirmed in 24 countries and only 1 death has occurred.

Image Source: WHO

These figures are changing daily as the number of infections is on the rise. The WHO is closely monitoring the epidemiology of this outbreak. If you would like to keep up to date with their daily reports you can click here.

RESOURCES

https://www.businessinsider.com/wuhan-coronavirus-sars-bats-animals-to-humans-2020-1?IR=T

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html

https://www.discovery.co.za/assets/discoverycoza/health-professionals/general/ncov-quick-reference.pdf

http://www.nicd.ac.za/minister-of-health-south-africa-update-on-coronavirus-2/

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/

https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

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