A growing pandemic, the Coronavirus has caused worldwide panic. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcing a death toll of 427 people and 20 613 reported cases of infection worldwide, everyone should educate themselves on it. Here’s what you need to know.
First off, what is the Coronavirus?
This coronavirus, which broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has been identified by the WHO as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. It’s an immune syndrome that attacks the human respiratory system: the nose, throat or sinuses. Given that the symptoms are very similar to a common cold or flu, the chances of misdiagnosis are high.
Since the breakout, the deadly virus has claimed 425 lives in the Chinese region. One death has been recorded in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong, the only cases outside mainland China. There is growing anxiety as the reported number of infections increases worldwide. Chinese residents fear for their lives as the virus spreads rapidly and the death toll rises daily.
Anyone at risk is urged to wash their hands regularly, wear protective masks and arm themselves with anti-cold meds. The virus is spreading quickly through contact (touching or breathing) with droplets from coughs and sneezing.
The WHO has alerted the public to be aware of the #CoronaVirus outbreak. No cases have been reported in SA. Stellenbosch Municipality would like to remind residents & visitors travelling to and from affected countries to take necessary precautions. @WHO @HealthZA @WestCapeHealth pic.twitter.com/EmsD2KHg7q
— Stellenbosch Municipality (@StellMun) January 30, 2020
Specifically, protective masks are thought to limit the spread. According to Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai, the bulk of the infections occurred by animal-to-human transmission. The virus is airborne and transmitted easily in open spaces where crowds are present. As such, many of China’s public outlets remain closed. Meanwhile, the supply of these protective masks is limited. Not enough stores and pharmacies are open for sale to residents. Online stock is also reported to be completely sold out.
The risk factor
“Those who have recently travelled, or are planning to travel, to international destinations such as the Far East should be particularly vigilant,” warns Dr Vincent.
Airport authorities have already begun limiting inbound traffic from China and doctors have been stationed at airports worldwide to test potentially sick patients. Other countries that have been identified as being affected by the most recent outbreak include the United States, Thailand, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
So, what about South Africa?
While China is in the thick of the crisis, the threat is not as immediate in South Africa. On Tuesday, SABC News brought in medical epidemiologist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and lecturer at the School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Dr Sibongile Walaza to comment. She reassured viewers that SA is prepared — at least regarding testing and detecting the virus. But it’s unclear how long the rest of the world is likely to remain “safe”. Currently, health officials are still trying to figure out ways to treat and prevent infection.
The fact remains that a significant number of South Africans are living and working in China, which has raised concerns about the virus being present in the country. Because of this, it’s important to keep up to date with news surrounding the outbreak.
“In addition, there are concerns that the virus could become more contagious than it currently appears to be, and global and local health surveillance agencies including the National Institute of Communicable Diseases [NICD] and South African Department of Health in South Africa, therefore, remain vigilant,” says Dr Vincent.
Track it in real-time
Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering has designed a map that shows the spread of the virus in real-time. The dashboard collects data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chinese website DXY, which aggregates data from China’s National Health Commission and the CCDC. You can follow the map here.