Dr. Amir Petrus Dawood
• The first case of coronavirus in the U.S. has been confirmed; a Seattle man who had recently visited Wuhan, China.
• The coronavirus is named after its crown-like shape—corona being Latin for ‘crown’—and has killed at least 17 people in China.
• Wuhan has been placed under quarantine and public transportation such as buses, subways, ferries and more are also facing temporary closure.
A new strain of coronavirus has the World Health Organization (WHO) and medical officials worried. It’s known as 2019-nCoV, or more commonly as the Wuhan coronavirus, named after Wuhan City, China.
Yes, this sounds bad. But before you panic, there are a couple of facts you should know. While the virus can prove deadly, it’s relatively rare and there are easy prevention methods you can follow to keep your risk of contracting 2019-nCoV low.
What Is a Coronavirus?
The 2019-nCoV virus actually belongs to a family of coronaviruses (CoV), which include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). According to the World Health Organization, CoVs can afflict you with something as mild as the common cold or something as deadly as SARS. The virus affecting people now is what’s called a novel coronavirus (nCoV) because it’s the first time this strain is being seen in humans.
“Before 2002, [the coronavirus] was associated with the common cold in humans. In animals, it was associated with severe and often deadly enteric disease mostly in pigs, cats, and other mammals.
How Does a Coronavirus Spread?
CoV’s are zoonotic viruses, meaning that they can be transmitted between animals and humans. In fact, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV both reached humans by way of dromedary camels and civets, respectively. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the person-to-person contagion event could be due to “respiratory droplets” exchanged between people in close proximity, but this remains “unclear.”
“Sneezing, coughing, and other close contact likely drives infection especially if particles aerosolize during the removal of medical equipment.
The first case of 2019-nCoV in the U.S. was announced on January 21, 2020, in Washington state. A man who had recently traveled through Wuhan came back to the U.S. and presented with symptoms of the new coronavirus. A specimen was taken from the patient and overnighted to the CDC where it was confirmed that the man had 2019-nCoV using a Real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) test.
NPR reports that the man is currently quarantined at Providence Regional Medical Center and is otherwise in good health. Additionally, 12 people are in critical condition worldwide, presenting with either respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or some form of organ failure requiring ICU admission. In total, there have been at least 17 deaths caused by 2019-nCoV.
What Safety Measures are Governments Taking?
The main goal of the government will be to limit spread of the virus and find its source. In China, front line workers in the healthcare system are wearing proper protective equipment to prevent their infection. “Patients are being held in isolation wards to prevent spread. The city of Wuhan has also been placed under isolation and various forms of public transportation have been brought to a halt, China has also extended the quarantine to the cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. This unprecedented move cuts an estimated 19 million people off from the rest of the world. Airports have begun conducting additional screenings on people flying in from China; the CDC has stationed approximately 100 of their employees at these airports and will begin additional health screenings at Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD) airports this week.
Is There a Cure?
Currently, there is no cure or vaccine for 2019-nCoV. However, now that the virus has been sequenced, chances of effective treatments—including the possibility of a vaccine—are more likely. Treatment for 2019-nCoV could see doctors prescribing remdesivir—an antiviral drug—which has shown “efficacy against CoVs early after the start of infection and has had success against Ebola.
How Can I Protect Myself?
According to the WHO, there are some simple preventive measures you can take to protect yourself from this strain:
• Regularly washing your hands and using alcohol-based sanitizers
• Covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze
• Utilizing face masks when in crowded areas
• Avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs
• Avoid close contact with people exhibiting symptoms such as fevers, coughs, sneezing, and difficulty breathing
• If you present with any of these symptoms, visit your medical provider immediately and share your recent travel history with them
• Avoiding contact with live animals in areas where there have been cases of 2019-nCoV