Coronavirus has been splashed across front pages, social media and news websites for the last week. This new Wuhan virus is big news and growing exponentially. There’s nothing better than a potential pandemic to sell some newspapers.
So what is it all about and should we really be at panic stations? Just how widespread is this new coronavirus, and how aggressive is it? We’ve done some rapid research using publicly available information to get a clear idea of what kind of threat the coronavirus presents to the Australian public and the steps you can take to protect you and your family’s health.
What’s happened so far?
As of Wednesday, January 29th, more than 4,500 cases had been reported and the death toll exceeded 100 people. There were renewed fears of increased transmission rates, despite the reassurance of experts that it should ultimately be less widespread than other major, similar viruses such as SARS. Australia upgraded its advice to tourists to reconsider travel to all of China, not just Hubei province. Some nations, such as Japan, have begun evacuating their citizens from Wuhan.
What is the coronavirus?
Technically, it’s not the coronavirus, it’s just a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a designation of a virus type that is commonly found among animals. In some edge cases, it’s possible for these diseases to cross the animal-human boundary, which is what has happened here.
How does coronavirus present itself?
People who contract a coronavirus usually get quite unwell. Upper respiratory tract symptoms are very common, and some sufferers may appear as though they have a cold. Symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, runny nose and headaches are very common. Some people may present with a fever which will persist for a few days.
How do you treat coronavirus?
Coronavirus doesn’t have a specific treatment regime. The majority of people who contract a coronavirus will eventually recover without medical assistance. General treatment advice includes:
• Cold and flu medication
• Plenty of rest
• Use a room humidifier or take hot showers to ease throat pain
• Stay hydrated
If you have concerns about your illness, or you notice your condition worsening, you should speak with a healthcare provider.
Where did the coronavirus start?
This particular coronavirus has not been identified in humans before. It is suspected to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, through some exposure to a live or recently killed animal.
A recent study indicates that it may have been a snake that originally passed the virus onto the first human. It is one of seven coronaviruses that are known to infect humans. Four of these are very common and express themselves as the common cold. The others, SARS and MERS, are similar to this current virus in that they crossed the threshold from animal to human.
How much is the coronavirus likely to spread?
There are early indications that this coronavirus isn’t as infectious as SARS or MERS. Additionally, there are far better procedures in place now to quarantine and address breakouts more rapidly. Most expectations are that this new coronavirus won’t spread as rapidly or infect as many people as SARS or MERS.
How to avoid coronavirus infection
The same good hygiene practices that you would normally employ during flu season may help you avoid a coronavirus infection. Avoid congested areas where possible. Clean your hands regularly, using an alcohol-based sanitiser. Disinfect your immediate surrounds (such as your desk space at work) regularly. Avoid touching your eyes and mouth with your hands. If you’re sick, stay at home – don’t contribute to spreading illness through your workplace.
What’s being done?
Many nations (including Australia) have issued notices to their population to reconsider travelling to highly affected areas, such as Wuhan and broader Hubei province. In China, the government is taking significant steps to quarantine affected areas and establish field hospitals to help treat those already infected.
China’s capabilities in addressing outbreaks such as this, combined with the powers that may be exercised by their government, ensures that every possible step is being taken to restrict the spread of this new coronavirus. While these efforts are unlikely to prevent the spread of the virus entirely, they will certainly delay it and provide other governments time to implement their own procedures to prevent further infections.
Schedule an appointment
There’s no need to panic – the chances of you having come into contact with a coronavirus carrier are infinitesimally small. If you have any symptoms that you’re concerned about, schedule an appointment with a GP to discuss it.