Between 2002 and 2003, over 700 people infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) died across 37 countries. In the period from 2012 to 2016, an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) claimed around 600 lives. And more recently, a novel Coronavirus (nCoV) that appears to be a cousin of the SARS virus and of the same family as the MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has infected hundreds of people in and around Wuhan in China.
This new human Coronavirus has been known to cause respiratory distress in infected people. And while it has resulted in around 17 deaths among the 400 odd people who have been affected, it remains unclear how deadly this new virus may prove to be. To keep yourself safe from this outbreak, it helps to know everything there is to learn about Coronaviruses in general and about this one in particular.
What are Coronaviruses?
“Corona” is Latin for crown, and these microorganisms are dubbed as Coronaviruses because of the crown-like projections present on their surfaces. They’re essentially large groups of viruses that are responsible for a wide variety of respiratory conditions. The illnesses caused by Coronaviruses range from innocuous conditions like common colds to severe infections like SARS and MERS. Research over the past seven decades has revealed that Coronaviruses can infect various animals like rats, mice, cats, dogs, horses, cattle, and pigs.
The human Coronavirus was first identified in the 1960s in patients infected with common cold. Subsequent studies went on to show that Coronaviruses are not only transmittable between humans, but can also be transmitted from animals to humans, making them zoonotic viruses. The SARS-CoV, for instance, initially spread from civet cats to humans. The MERS-CoV, on the other hand, was traced back to dromedary camels.
What are the symptoms of a Coronavirus infection?
The exact symptoms depend on the strain of Coronavirus that has caused the infection. However, general observations reveal that most of the symptoms associated with any Coronavirus attack primarily revolves around respiratory discomfort and distress.
The new Coronavirus whose outbreak began in China in December 2019 causes certain classic symptoms that are often easy to confuse with regular cough or common cold. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are the symptoms to look out for in the early stages of the infection.
- Sore throat
- General malaise
As the infection grows more severe, it’s known to cause vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, and symptoms that resemble pneumonia.
How is the Coronavirus diagnosed?
To diagnose an infection with the Coronavirus, healthcare providers and medical professionals take samples of your respiratory fluids (such as mucus) or your blood and have them tested at a laboratory for the presence of the human Coronavirus. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) uses the Real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) test to detect the virus.
Can the Coronavirus infection be treated?
None of the conditions or diseases caused by Coronaviruses can be treated specifically. In most cases, patients eventually get better on their own. However, if the virus causing the infection is of a more deadly strain, and if the person is infected with SARS, MERS, or the new pneumonia-like illness caused by the n-CoV, the condition may take a turn for the worse as the disease progresses. This is particularly true in the case of immunocompromised patients.
How is the Coronavirus transmitted?
Here’s how the human Coronavirus spreads from one person to another.
- Through droplets released in the air when a patient coughs or sneezes
- By touching an object that may have the virus on it, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands
- Through close personal contact such as handshakes
- In rare cases, through fecal contamination
How many cases of the new Coronavirus have been confirmed?
Currently, this is how the numbers of patients confirmed to have been infected with the n-CoV stand.
- China: 44,653 people
- Japan: 203 people
- Hong Kong: 49 people
- Singapore: 47 people
- Thailand: 33 people
- South Korea: 28 person
In addition to these confirmed cases, there’s also one suspected case in Australia.
What precautions can you take to remain safe?
There’s not much you can do to treat the Coronavirus infection in case you’ve already caught it. However, there are some measures you can take to ensure that you remain safe if you’re still unaffected.
- Wash your hands with soap thoroughly at regular intervals.
- Refrain from touching your hands, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Eat a balanced diet and don’t skip meals, so your immune system remains strong.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough.
- Keep away from people who’re sick.
- If you find yourself exhibiting any of the n-CoV symptoms, visit a doctor on priority.
The WHO has also published interim guidelines to help countries manage this outbreak by. These guidelines deal with aspects like testing samples, monitoring patients who are affected, treating them, and containing the infection within health centers.
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