Over the past few weeks, world news has unanimously revolved around the coronavirus. What started as a viral outbreak in Wuhan, China has quickly become a cause of global concern, even more so after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health emergency. There’s a lot of talk all over the Internet about this virus – from anxiety over being infected to a few funny theories about the virus being a deliberate leak from a lab or its possible relationship with its namesake beer. Keeping this chaos in mind, it’s only right to address how the outbreak started, what it actually is and how we can protect ourselves from it.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which are responsible for multiple illnesses like the common cold, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and even the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak that occurred back in 2003. The current virus – being referred to as the novel coronavirus (nCoV) – has not been previously identified and is a new strain. This virus spreads from animals to humans, and this particular outbreak seems to have originated from a seafood and livestock market in China, and more particularly, from bats. However, it is important to remember that this is still being studied, and there is no confirmation as of now.
At the moment, the number of people affected has exceeded 30,000, with most cases in China and approximately over 700 deaths. The quick spread of the virus has instilled quite a lot of fear amongst people globally of contracting the virus themselves. There have been very few cases involving human to human transmission outside of China, so in other countries where affected patients aren’t as many, isolating the patients and stopping the spread is slightly easier. However, it is natural to be fearful of the unknown – there is no cure for this strain of the virus yet. Scientists have successfully been able to grow a culture of it in labs and are working tirelessly to come up with a solution. There is a forum on the 11-12 of February in Geneva, which will bring together key scientists and figures in health ministries to discuss next steps and accelerate the process of understanding the disease, its transmission and possible countermeasures.
Risk in the UK, particularly in Glasgow, remains very low. However, it’s useful to know common symptoms to look out for:
- shortness of breath,
- runny noses.
It is a respiratory syndrome so these symptoms are quite common during cold weather but should be taken seriously if you have recently traveled to any affected region.
In a constantly happening and populated setting such as the University of Glasgow, there are some simple ways to protect yourself:
- Wash your hands! Soap and water, and alcohol-based sanitizers help get rid of the virus from surfaces like your hands.
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze/cough, but don’t cover it with your hands. Sneeze and cough into your elbow or a tissue (discard it immediately). You want to stop the spread of the virus, if you sneeze into your hands you risk contaminating other people and surfaces.
- Keep your distance – if you’re around someone infected by a respiratory illness maintain at least 1-meter distance so that you don’t inhale any cough droplets.
- Immediately seek medical care if you have a fever or cough and you have recently traveled to China or have been around someone who has traveled from China recently.
This list should help keep you safe but just on an endnote, it’s important to bust some myths so that you can also rid yourself of anxiety.
- It is completely safe to receive packages or letters from China, since the virus cannot survive without a host and hence, doesn’t live long on objects.
- Vaccines against pneumonia cannot protect you from the virus, since there is no known vaccine for nCoV at the moment.
- Do not start any antibiotics course as a preventive measure either, since they are only affective against bacteria, not viruses.
- People of all ages are susceptible and should take necessary precautions – no particular age group is a target.
Stay safe everybody, and let’s hope the outbreak passes over soon. A special thought and prayer goes out for all those affected, and all the lives lost.
[Hooran M. Khattak – she/her – @hooran.m]
[Photo credit: Shutterstock]