The growing cases of infections from a new strain of coronavirus discovered in China is causing creepy ripples across the globe, amid reports that at least three people have died after contracting it.
Coronaviruses are a broad family of viruses, but only six (the new one would make it seven) are known to infect people. Labelled 2019-nCoV, the strain of coronavirus is one that has never been previously identified in humans. Scientists are of the belief that it originated primarily from an animal source, as they have also reported cases of human-to-human transmission.
The latest outbreak of the ‘strange strain of coronavirus’ reawakes the scary memories of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an illness caused by another strange coronavirus that broke out in the early 2000s. Analysis of the genetic code of the new virus reveals the two are more closely related to each other than to other known human coronavirus.
SARS killed over 774 people across countries mostly in Asia. Like SARS, the yet to be named new coronavirus is stealthily spreading across borders. So far Japan, Thailand and South Korea have reported cases, with over 200 cases reported as at Monday January 20. Most of the reported cases are in Wuhan. Reports, however say that the virus which causes a type of pneumonia has also been detected in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The first cases of the virus appeared in the mainland city Wuhan late last year. Although the strainnhas been isolated, there are fears that the number of cases may spike as millions of Chinese prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year holidays.
The scientific world is more concerned about the enigma surrounding how the virus is spread, despite the discovery that it broke out in a market.
Media reports from china have quoted Respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan, and Head of the health commission team investigating the virus, as saying that 14 medical workers had been infected by the virus while treating patients.
The World Health organization (WHO) in a statement had warned of the danger of trans-border infections, saying “the possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected.” This, the orgnaisation said reinforces why it has called for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries.
While the WHO has issued guidance on how to detect and treat persons ill with the new virus, it says that the genetic sequencing shared by China would enable more countries to rapidly diagnose patients.
Meanwhile, WHO has said its Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will consult with Emergency Committee members and could call for a meeting of the committee on short notice.
Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
People are being advised to avoid “unprotected” contact with live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a public statement on the outbreak, stressing that the virus must be contained.
Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS.
The WHO has urged international travelers to practice usual precautions.
“While the cause of the pneumonia seems to be a novel coronavirus, transmission potential and modes of transmission remain unclear. Therefore, it would be prudent to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections while travelling in or from affected areas (currently Wuhan City),” the WHO stated.
Some of the recommendations by WHO include:
· avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
· frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
· avoiding close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals;
· travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).
· Health practitioners and public health authorities should provide to travellers information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry.