Feeling nervous about the worldwide spread of Coronavirus? You’re not alone, as many people all over the globe are. It’s normal to feel anxious when something new and potentially dangerous is happening. Though thousands of people die from the flu every year, it is not unusual to focus on this new and dangerous disease.
The good news is that your risk of catching Coronavirus is probably low if you haven’t recently been in contact with people from Wuhan in China where the virus originated.
Coronaviruses are types of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tracts of mammals, including humans. They’re associated with the common cold, pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and they can also affect the gut. Among humans, infection most often occurs during the winter months as well as in early spring.
For the third time in the past 20 years, a Coronavirus has now made the jump from animals to humans, and scientists are drawing on past experience to determine the best way to handle the disease. They are also investigating alternative approaches to treating the Wuhan Coronavirus, including some antiviral medications and convalescent plasma treatments, though none of these have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Not much is yet known about the Wuhan Coronavirus, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) is actively investigating the virus, the way it spreads, and the severity of any subsequent illness. Human Coronaviruses cannot be cultivated in the laboratory easily and like for many viruses the Coronavirus has no specific cure. A vaccine is still months or possibly years away.
However, the virus can be diagnosed by taking a sample of respiratory fluids, such as mucus from the nose, or blood.
Common symptoms: The symptoms of most Coronaviruses are similar to other upper respiratory tract infections, including a runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever, cough and feeling of generally being unwell.
For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly, and the very young, there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower and more serious respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis.
How it spreads: There has not been much research on how the human Coronavirus spreads from one person to another. However, it is believed that virus particles are transmitted in fluid from the respiratory system.
Human Coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth, this dispersing droplets into the air and spreading the virus. Touching objects or surfaces harbouring the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands can also spread the virus.
The virus can also be spread through close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands.
Treatment: There are currently no vaccines available against the human Coronavirus, but most people with the common human Coronavirus will recover on their own. However, if you’re mildly sick, remember to keep yourself hydrated.
Treat symptoms with plenty of rest, pain or fever medication, and plenty of fluids in the same way you would a cold. A room humidifier or a hot shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat and cough. If you are concerned about symptoms, seek medical advice.
Prevention: You may be able to reduce the risk of infection by washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
If you have cold-like symptoms, you can protect others by staying at home while you’re sick, avoiding close contact with others, and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throwing the tissue in the bin and washing your hands.
Remember also to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.