According to the media and WHO (World Health Organization) reports, 13 people worldwide have been infected with the new strain of the coronavirus. Why such attention to the disease that affected only 13 people? One reason is that half of them died from the disease, and other is that nobody knows how they got infected. While WHO is warning countries to be on the lookout for the symptoms of the disease, some medical practitioners are worried that the number of patients we know about is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and that there are many others who are infected, but do not have any symptoms. What exactly is novel coronavirus?
While known as a respiratory tract infection in animals since 1937, we have learned that some types of coronavirus can affect humans only in 1960. We now know that almost 30 percent of flu cases are caused by one type of coronavirus.
The symptoms of coronavirus infections are usually mild and start as flu-like symptoms two to three days after the infection, with mild fever and respiratory problems. But, coronavirus mutates very easily and the antibodies our system creates to fight the intruder do not last long, what makes this disease so contagious and difficult to treat and investigate. It is also very difficult to grow in laboratory conditions.
While most coronaviruses affect upper respiratory tract, SARS, another strain of coronavirus, affects both upper and lower tract, what means that it can cause gastroenteritis.
What is novel coronavirus?
According to WHO, the most common symptoms of the novel or new coronavirus infection are;
Acute respiratory illness
shortness of breath
The infection looks very much like pneumonia in most cases, but in some cases the virus caused kidney failure and the patients died. The novel coronavirus replicates faster than the SARS and can penetrate the lining of the lungs’ passageways in the same way as common cold.
Since the virus so far infected very limited number of people, and it might easily change and mutate, scientists warn that the symptoms and features of the disease might change as well.
The worst strain of coronavirus known until now, the SARS, which killed 775 people and infected 8,273, had the mortality rate of 9.5 percents. The novel strain has 50 percents mortality rate so far. But, although more deadly, the new strain (hence the name ‘novel coronavirus’) evidently spreads very slowly, since only one of the reported cases was affected by being in close contact with another affected family member. So, the infection seems to be transferred through direct contact, and even then not to everyone. The patient who got infected after being in contact with a sick family member had a week immune system due to other health issues. The patient has since died in a UK hospital.
Are governments worried?
So far, no government started screening people at points of entry, or has ordered travel or trade restrictions. WHO advises countries to continue surveillance for all new cases of severe acute respiratory infections and to look for all unusual patterns. Doctors should test patients with unexplained pneumonias or other respiratory diseases that do not respond to treatment for the novel coronavirus.
In the meantime, scientists in four affected countries (UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan), as well as in other infectious disease centers are trying to find out where the disease came from, how contagious it is and how many cases of it there are but are not reported or are asymptomatic.
What can we do?
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), travelers to the Arabian Peninsula, where this strain of coronavirus originated, are at low risk of getting infected by the disease. Nevertheless, if they are travelling to Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Oman, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, or the United Arab Emirates, they should carefully watch for the novel corona virus symptoms. If they start having fever, coughing and having difficulty breathing, they should see the doctor immediately.
As with any other viral infection, people with weak immune system are more susceptible to the disease. Staying healthy with balanced nutrition and enough sleep and exercise is the best protection. In addition, since the disease spreads by direct contact, it is important to regularly wash hands with water and soap or alcohol based sanitizer. Try to avoid touching your face and mouth and stay away from sick people.
If you are travelling through Middle East, keep yourself informed about the new information about the novel coronavirus at the CDC website. We still know very little about how the disease spreads, so any new information might be important for your health and safety.