The Coronavirus: What is it and how can you avoid it?

The corona virus - Caleb LimWriter: Chris D’Arcy

Editor: James Yu

Visuals: Caleb Lim

Ever since its outbreak in December, the infamous Novel Coronavirus (abbreviated as the 2019-nCoV by various global health organizations) has caused increasing consternation around the world, with about 9856 reported cases worldwide and a total of 213 confirmed fatalities at the time of writing. The virus originated in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, then proceeded to spread to countries as far away as France and the US. With recent reports confirming cases of the virus here in Manila, it has never been more important to remain informed on the development of this outbreak. In this article, we examine why the disease poses such a medical threat, its symptoms, ways to prevent infection, and what to do if you contract the virus. 


What is the Novel Coronavirus?

The term “Coronavirus” itself is an umbrella term, referring to a group of viruses that can cause respiratory infections in mammals (including humans) and birds. However, unlike existing Human Coronaviruses such as the common cold or influenza, the Novel Coronavirus is more threatening as it has transferred across species to humans for the first time so that we have limited resistance to it and there is also currently no vaccine for it. Believing the virus has originated from the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wunan, some specialists have traced the origin of the disease to bats and snakes, though there is still some dispute about this. This factor helps exemplify the threat posed by the disease, as even if a vaccine were developed for it, both the human and animal population would have to be inoculated to truly eradicate the disease; a feat which is virtually impossible. Recent cases of human to human infection have now made the illness harder to contain, especially as those infected may be contagious without displaying the symptoms listed below.


What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus are fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, coughing and shortness of breath. The virus can also lead patients with weak immune systems to develop other respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Based on a report from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these symptoms usually begin appearing 2-14 days following exposure to the virus. The disease can be diagnosed through x-rays, thermal screening or an examination of one’s respiratory specimens. 


How can you prevent infection?

As the virus is spread by traces from coughing or breathing that may live outside of the body for limited periods on surfaces or skin, an important way to block transmission is by simply washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, using plenty of soap and water. If soap is unavailable, then an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do, though it would be preferable if it contained at least 60% alcohol. It is also recommended that if you have not washed your hands, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth is crucial. One should also stay clear of livestock and undomesticated animals, as one of the disease’s defining characteristics is its ability to pass from animal to human hosts. If someone within your vicinity is sick and suspected to be carrying the virus, then you should try to avoid any and all close contact with that person, standing at least 2 meters away from them to avoid transmission via diseased traces. When in the kitchen, one should wash their hands between preparing raw and cooked foods. Different kitchen tools should also be used when handling cooked and uncooked food items. 


What should I do if I have the virus?

If you are showing signs of illness, then you should seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible and avoid close interaction with others to prevent further transmission. Infectious waste, including used tissues or swabs, should be disposed of in the nearest trash can available. Once again, it is strongly recommended that you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a substitute. Face masks can also be worn to prevent further spreading of the disease. 

Though the idea of this virus spreading is undoubtedly troubling, with a little caution and awareness, the chances of contracting it are reduced significantly for everyone.