Coronavirus: What’s Behind the Mask?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak a Public Heath Emergency or International Concern. Having spread from China, countries across the world are taking action to minimise the impact and spread of the virus.

This article is part one of our mini series on viruses. The aim of this article is to briefly introduce you to coronavirus, and more importantly spread awareness on precautionary measures against the virus.

In further articles, I will explain better how viruses are transmitted and go into some detail about different types of viruses. I will also be posting further on Coronaviruses, including information on transmission of COVID-19 and the mortality rate associated with it. If this is something that interests you, please make sure you subscribe to the blog and keep an eye out for further updates.

Introduction to Coronavirus:

According to the World Health Organisation, “coronaviruses (CoV) are a large group of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory diseases” [1].

The coronavirus group of viruses, albeit large, have been previously known to affect a number of animals, including cats and camels. The synergistic effect of mutations in the virus, and the close proximity between humans and animals, has allowed the virus to evolve to gain the ability to also affect humans. This jump of a disease from an animal to a human is known as zoonotic transmission. In other words, coronavirus is spread from animals to humans, as opposed to HIV for example, which is transmitted directly from person to person.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia cases emerged in China. Investigations of the earliest confirmed COVID-19 patients found that a novel strain (or new type, as you will) of the coronavirus affected a group of people at a seafood and live animal market in the city of Wuhan. Although the first couple of COVID-19 cases would suggest a direct animal-to-human transmission, it is clear that human-to-human transmission allowed for the widespread reach of the virus. This is because subsequent patients that tested positive for COVID-19 did not have exposure to animal markets [2].

Since the initial warnings of Dr Li Wenliang, who later contracted the virus and passed away [3] – health officials have reported thousands of new cases in China. The death toll from the outbreak has passed 2,000, and is likely to increase. A rapid increase in the number of people affected by the virus, forced China to quarantine the entire city of Wuhan.

Scientists have questioned the way in which China has been counting the number of coronavirus cases. Although it is possible that some cases go undetected, the recent change in reporting criteria by the Chinese officials could mean that the numbers of those affected may also be masked [4]. This change in the coronavirus reporting criteria has added to widespread panic as these changes make it harder to calculate the rate at which the virus spreads.

Regardless of the reporting system, it is clear that the numbers of those affected is continually growing both within China, and internationally. On January 30, 2020, the coronavirus outbreak was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” [4]. Since then, a number of countries including Egypt, France, India, the UK and the USA, have reported positive cases for coronavirus.

Moreover, a number of countries including the US and the UK have responded to the outbreak and made efforts to evacuate their nationals and bring them back home. In addition to this, some countries have added preventative health checks and screenings at airport immigration counters to further control disease outbreak. A number of scheduled flights to China have also been cancelled, in addition to government advice to not travel to China at this point in time. Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are combatting the spread of misinformation on COVID-19 by redirecting people to the WHO website.

It is evident that governments are under increased pressure and are taking actions to provide advice to individuals on measures to protect health and to prevent the spread of a coronavirus outbreak.

How is the COVID-19 virus transmitted?
The exact mechanism of the 2019 novel coronavirus is not known yet. Since it is a respiratory virus, it is assumed that its transmission occurs through droplets formed from sneezing for example.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include:

  • A runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

The more severe symptoms may lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and in some cases, death [1].

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, and have been to China, or have been in contact with a person suffering from coronavirus – it is recommended that you please contact your medical professional and take further advice.

So how do you know you’re affected?
As you have probably noticed, the symptoms above are the same as when you have a cold or are suffering from the flu. The coronavirus therefore requires a formal diagnosis: the infection is diagnosed through taking blood, nasal secretions or other bodily fluids of the patient, which is then used to identify the virus based on its genetic fingerprint [5].

Currently, there is no treatment for a person suffering from the novel coronavirus. Patients are therefore given supportive care to manage their symptoms, while the body’s immune system responds to and fights the infection naturally.

The World Health Organisation has highlighted the need to develop treatments for the control and prevention of the outbreak. Globally, the race to inventing treatment plans for the outbreak, including drugs for treatment and vaccines for prevention, has begun.

Populations at most risk from infection:

  • Family members or health care providers caring for those infected.
  • People in close contact with animals.
  • People with a compromised immune system and previous respiratory conditions.
  • The elderly and the very young.

Precautionary Measures:

  • Cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, with a tissue or flexed elbow. This is necessary as the virus spreads through water droplets expelled by sneezing.
  • Once used, bin the tissues immediately to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, or use an alcohol-based sanitiser. Please note: antibacterial sanitisers are ineffective against any viruses.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. This is because this touching leads to further germ transmission to and from the environment.
  • Avoid unnecessary unprotected contact with animals. In case of contact, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based sanitiser.
  • Ensure animal products are cooked thoroughly before consumption.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is displaying the symptoms listed above.
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Your doctor may also require your travel history.

Further Information:
If you would like to know more about the coronavirus and the latest news regarding the spread of the virus, please visit the World Health Organisation website. You can also access the latest information at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website.

For Part Two of this mini-series, please click here. Due to popular demand, this part of the series provides further explanation on what a virus is, how it was discovered and how long they are able to survive without a host.




22 Replies to “Coronavirus: What’s Behind the Mask?”

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