The worsening outbreak of a little known strain of coronaviruses has sent health officials across the world scrambling as countries remain on high alert. As Kenyans wait to know the fate of a student who arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with coronavirus-like symptoms yesterday, it is important to understand the basics of how the virus works in order to avert panic.
Here’s what you need to know about the current coronavirus epidemic.
What are coronaviruses?
It is a family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses in humans including common colds and more severe forms like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) which are life-threatening.
The current strain has been named 2019-nCoV.
How did the Coronavirus epidemic start?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) was alerted on December 31, 2019 to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The virus did not match any other known virus, which raised concerns.
A week later on January 7, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus of the coronavirus family. The new virus was temporarily named Novel coronavirus-2019 (2019-nCoV). It had not been previously identified in humans.
Where did it come from?
Scientists suspect the virus may have originated in bats or snakes. It’s not yet clear who the intermediate host is and how the infection was transmitted from animals to humans.
However, early reports pointed the finger at a game food market in Wuhan where snakes, rats, wolf puppies, live foxes, crocodiles, giant salamanders, peacocks, porcupines, and other wildlife are available for sale.
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
According to WHO, the main clinical signs and symptoms reported in this outbreak include fever, difficulty in breathing, and chest radiographs showing bilateral lung infiltrates.
In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. The incubation period of the coronavirus remains unknown.
WHO notes that not enough is known about the epidemiology of 2019-nCoV to draw definitive conclusions about the full clinical features of disease, the intensity of human-to-human transmission, and the original source of the outbreak.
How does it spread?
According to the CDC, there is still a lot to learn about this new strain and how it is transmitted, with investigations still ongoing.
According to WHO, coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
Once people are infected, coronaviruses mainly spread via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, just like colds and flu.
How to Prevent Coronavirus from Spreading
According to WHO, standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Additionally, it is recommended that you use a separate bathroom if living with and caring for someone who is infected.
If infected, you should restrict activities outside your home, except if going to get medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas, and do not use public transportation or taxis, the CDC advises.
People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practise cough etiquette, that is, maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.
You should wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, the CDC says.
You shouldn’t share dishes, drinking glasses, towels, bedding, and other items with other people in your home once infection is suspected.
Adapted from NATION