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Since the start of the year, the Coronavirus has been making headlines, particularly for those in Wuhan, China, who recently became the epicenter of a new Coronavirus outbreak since Dec 31st, just before the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations on 25th January .
In response to the outbreak, China has issued that the large city be locked down and quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. As it is so often the case that ignorance breeds fear, let's take a look at the facts in order to keep a level head about this mysterious new virus.
What is the Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is actually a very broad term that points to a family of viruses. Each virus within this family is different, including the virus responsible for the common cold, MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). One thing all viral strains in this family have in common is causing respiratory symptoms.
The 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has made a new addition to this family, however scientists are still working out it's specific characteristics and how it differs from other members of the coronavirus family. After such a brief time, they have already impressively mapped the genome of the 2019-nCoV and from that it is currently believed to be most closely related to SARS.
Signs, Symptoms & Causes: What We Know So Far About the New 2020 Coronavirus
The main symptom of the 2019-nCoV is pneumonia or shortness of breath, accompanied by a dry cough, a fever and fatigue. Another common symptom appears to be fibrosis or scarring in the lungs; a condition present in every infected person scanned. Unlike SARS and MERS, sneezing, a runny nose, a sore throat, headaches and diarrhea were less common symptoms.
This novel coronavirus appears to mostly target the lower portion of the lungs, being a lower respiratory tract infection as opposed to a higher respiratory tract infection - the latter of which is the more common scenario amongst viral flu infections.
Some people who have contracted this new coronavirus have come down with severe respiratory complications, requiring hospitalization and the use of oxygen devices to stabilize their condition. A small percentage have thus far endured cardiac, lung and kidney damage as a result of the disease.
The incubation period for the virus appears to be very different to any other strain from the same family. The average incubation time currently recorded seems to be around 10 days; however, some cases are as quick as one day or as long as 14 days before the flu-like symptoms emerge. It typically takes about 8 days after incubation for the patient to begin having troubles with their breathing.
Some who have gotten infected show no clinical symptoms, yet have proven to have the disease via lab tests and there are indications that these individuals are also capable of passing it on. Of those who are infected without any visible symptoms, cross-sectional scans of the lungs reveal the same degree of fibrosis as those with clinical symptoms.
How Does the 2019-nCoV Spread and How Contagious is it?
The virus is airborne and spreads through close contact between people and possibly animals.
Just like the common cold and other flus, the virus appears to be transmitted through moisture droplets that are exhaled from the infected, via coughing, breathing, etc.
Uninfected person's can contract the virus by being too close and inhaling infected particles or by accidentally touching a surface where viral particles are still active before touching their face. It also may be passed on through animals or consuming infected animal products.
Media coverage from the primary infection site warn that the virus may be contagious through the eyes as well, as even doctors wearing hazmat suits are becoming infected in hospitals - although this still needs further verification. Keep in mind that the hospitals on the frontlines of this outbreak are inundated with people who have contracted the virus and therefore there are plenty of opportunities for staff members to contract it as well. On this note, China has mobilized backup doctors to the scene and is already starting to build two new hospitals at an unbelievable pace.
Thanks to China's cooperation with the WHO and the scientists that are working fast and furiously to understand the 2019-nCoV, it has thus far been deduced that the virus can be contagious even during the incubation period. This is another characteristic that makes this virus far more contagious than other kinds, but that does not necessarily make it more or less dangerous than any other virulent flu.
Only one case study conducted by the Lancet has given us a very miniscule insight as to what the going infection rate could be. Seven members of a family contracted the disease while visiting Wuhan, yet all but six of the family members displayed symptoms. This led scientists to estimate the rate of infection amongst those exposed is 83%, however it was later confirmed that the seventh member was also infected, but lacked clinical symptoms.
All the above information could change, as the outbreak is evolving rapidly and larger tests are very much required before anyone can settle on conclusions.
Is the 2019-nCoV Deadly? Who is at the Highest Risk?
All diseases and infections have the potential to be deadly, even the common cold.
According to BBC News The number of total confirmed cases in China rose to 4,515 as of 27 January, up from 2,835 a day earlier. The majority of deaths have been attributed to those with weaker immune systems or immune complications.
A handful of cases of the virus have been reported in the US from citizens who recently traveled to Wuhan, China. All the reports reflect that these individual's conditions have been successfully stabilized. It's only a matter of time before scientists figure out how to combat the virus head on.
To put the above statistics into perspective for those highly concerned, roughly 3-5 million people become infected globally with the common flu (either influenza-A or B) and of that, up to 650 000 people die every year as a result.
What Caused the 2019-nCoV Outbreak?
Nobody can say for sure yet. Since most other types of coronavirus have been traced back to animals, such as wild cats for SARS and camels for MERS, officials suspect the 2019-nCoV has an animal origin. After mapping out the genome, scientists hypothesize that the virus mutated from other coronaviruses in bats and was then passed on to other animals which made contact somehow with humans.
Residing near the central infection site in Wuhan, sits one of the largest meat markets in the city and many of those infected regularly bought meat from the vendors there. Investigators speculate that this is the most likely source of the outbreak, as the market sells a variety of animal meat from exotic wild game to seafood. More investigation is still required to verify this suspicion, but in the meantime, China has suspended all trade of wild animal meat as a control measure.
6 Travel Tips to Help Avoid Viral Infections in General
As we all know, China is very connected to the world at large through trade and travel and this has put everyone around the globe on high alert. However, the 2019-nCoV outbreak seems to be contained to those who have recently traveled in or near the infection site, which is nevertheless currently under quarantine.
For those who are traveling near or in China this year, here are some top tips
Avoid Traveling to Hubei Province, China, if Possible
The CDC has issued a warning and recommends that people ought to avoid traveling to the Hubei Province in China, if possible.
While Wuhan is the main site of infection that has been completely locked down, the virus appears to be spreading across the province relatively fast. You would probably do better to avoid the neighboring provinces too, until a proper way to treat the virus has been identified.
Another point to mention here is stay informed! The nature of an outbreak is that it is constantly evolving and therefore you need to be aware if any other countries or areas become quarantine zones.
If Traveling near or in China, Get a Mask and Avoid Public Hospitals
If you are traveling to China this year or even to surrounding countries such as Japan, Thailand or Malaysia, then it's a good idea to take some travel precautions:
- Buy a facemask first that can prevent you from accidentally inhaling viral particles in the air. On this note, you may have noticed that facemasks are virtually sold out on Amazon - this is in response to the outbreak. Do your best to source a facemask locally before traveling near or in China as you will likely not be able to get one while there.
- Avoid Public Hospitals as if anyone local has contracted the 2019-nCoV, they are likely to report there first. You also don't need to contract any other infection, even a minor one, as this will likely increase your chances of contracting a virulent flu such as the new coronavirus. If you need to travel for medical reasons, opt for private institutions that are likely to have better facilities.
Avoid eating Seafood or Wild Game
Since we have no clue where the viral outbreak originated yet suspect it may have come from either seafood or wild game, it's a good idea to avoid eating it while traveling. China both imports and exports these food items, therefore it is unclear whether the surrounding countries or China are responsible for the source of the outbreak.
If you find yourself in a situation where the food items on a menu are all in Chinese or a foreign language, get somebody who speaks your language to help you choose rather than ordering something random and surprising yourself.
Focus on Supporting Your Immune System
Something worth noting about all viral infections is that antibiotics don't work or help. The majority of anti-viral treatments revolve around boosting the immune system, which is the only thing truly capable of dealing with viruses at the end of the day. Therefore, if you want to avoid the common cold or any virulent flu, focus on boosting your immune system!
- Here are some great suggestions:
- Make sure you get adequate sleep each night (7-9hours).
- When planning your trip, include an extra day or two to recover from jetlag, which can cause your immune to dip.
- Use a Vitamin C supplement and drink plenty of water.
- Take advantage of the many herbal teas the East has to offer, with their immune-enhancing properties.
- Ensure to meet your daily nutritional requirements by consuming a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Moderate alcohol, sugar and salt intake
Keep Clean and Thoroughly Cook Your Food
In essence, you'll want to do your best to avoid ill individuals, particularly those who show respiratory symptoms like coughing or wheezing.
This is not foolproof defense though as any surface you touch could be contaminated (and often is) with a cesspool of different organisms. Do your best to avoid touching surfaces in public places. It can be a good idea to carry around a pack of tissues and some sort of hand sanitizer in your bag in the event that you need to do so.
If you find yourself coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth to prevent the spread of germs elsewhere. You also ought to avoid touching your face, mouth and eyes as well as the faces of other people.
Another good point to mention is not to overreact to people and to use common sense. The air quality in China is renowned for being of poor quality due to pollution and as a result, many people there exude respiratory symptoms that are not disease-related.
If you are going to eat animal products while traveling to the orient, make sure they are thoroughly cooked to ensure no organisms remain behind.
Report Yourself if You Suddenly Contract Symptoms
If you suddenly come down with respiratory symptoms and do not feel well, then you need to report yourself to a healthcare provider immediately. If these symptoms only kick in when you've returned from your trip, then you need to make sure you explain that you recently traveled to or near China, providing as many details as possible. This will help not only you to receive immediate treatment and get a prompt diagnosis, but it also helps the world as a whole to track the course of this outbreak.
While China is going through a pretty tough time right now, they have acted in a swift manner in order to contain the novel 2019-coronavirus and find a working solution. The best thing one can do is remain calm, take appropriate precautions and stay informed of the situation, especially if traveling to or near China in the next while.
-  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30185-9/fulltext?fbclid=IwAR2Z8ZbllElKhtEmqUf2YD__gZSTJstOxiyUfMu0ZQlqYrLlkeDnQdUD2AA
-  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
-  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30154-9/fulltext
-  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/world/china-coronavirus.html
-  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30186-0/fulltext
-  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal)