Since news broke that the coronavirus has been identified in China and has now spread further afield, many have been unsure as to what this means and the potential risks posed. So what are the risks associated with the outbreak of a new virus?
The most important factor is the nature of the virus and how it manifests itself in its host. The coronavirus is known to cause respiratory illness in humans but in the vast majority of cases the patient will recover quickly. As with all viruses, if a person’s immune system or general health is already compromised through illness or due to their current medication, there is a far greater risk of complications, some of which could be fatal.
Indications so far suggest that the coronavirus is airborne, meaning that it can be passed from one person to another through close contact. One medical professional in China who contracted the virus himself stated that the virus could be contracted through the eyes. Airborne viruses are much more worrying for health professionals and the wider community, as they are much more difficult to control. The delay between contracting the virus and displaying symptoms can also hamper efforts to contain the spread, as the longer the incubation period, the harder it is to determine who is likely to have been infected and could then be infecting other people. Health experts have suggested that the incubation period for coronavirus is around 14 days, and it has not been determined whether those infected are contagious prior to symptoms beginning.
As more cases across the world are identified, it is natural to feel a degree of panic as to what this might mean. Naturally any spread of a new virus is of concern, as it can affect more vulnerable members of the community, such as the elderly, children or the sick. Although coronavirus is not deadly to the vast majority of healthy individuals, there will be those who contract it that could die as a direct result. This fear is further heightened by the risk of coronavirus entering hospitals and other care facilities, where the vast majority of individuals there will be considered high risk. There is also a worry with new viruses which are yet to be fully analyzed, as they may have additional undiagnosed health risks for certain people; such as the Zika virus causing birth defects if contracted by the mother during pregnancy.
When a virus is on the move, many simply want to know what steps they can take to help stop the spread of infection. In China particularly, but elsewhere too, some people choose to wear face masks to help prevent them catching viruses and other airborne bugs. The general advice given so far is similar to general viruses such as the flu; wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds with soap, avoid touching the face, mouth and nose with unwashed hands and try to avoid those who are sick or unwell.
If you have been in contact with someone who has since been diagnosed with coronavirus, don’t panic. If you are not displaying symptoms, there is nothing that can be done yet, so there is no need to visit a health facility. If you do begin to display symptoms, phone your health care provider and explain your symptoms and the reason why you are concerned it could be coronavirus – this will either be because you have recently traveled to the affected area, or because you have been in contact with someone who then became unwell with the virus. There are different regional procedures in place for handling potential new cases of coronavirus, so check online to determine what the next steps are in your particular locality.
There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus, and the focus is on managing the symptoms until your immune system is able to naturally fight it off. For the vast majority of people infected with the virus, they will experience a short period of feeling unwell, accompanied by a headache, runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Very much like with the panic surrounding Bird Flu several years ago, there are countless viruses circulating at all times of the year, and so just because you are displaying flu-like symptoms, does not mean that you have contracted coronavirus.
If you or someone close to you is displaying flu-like symptoms, ensure that they rest up, take plenty of fluids and take regular over the counter pain relief to ease any discomfort. Usually the symptoms will subside after a few days, but if there are any causes for concern or health begins to deteriorate, call your healthcare provider as soon as possible for advice.
A final point to note is upcoming travel plans. To help contain the virus and avoid it spreading further, it is normal procedure to place limitations on travel both in and out of the affected areas. If you are planning to travel to China in the near future, be sure to check the latest travel information and advice with your airline well before your planned journey.