What is happening?
In December 2019 a new strain of the Coronavirus family was identified in persons showing up at hospitals in China. The most recent World Health Organisation (WHO) update (Sitrep #20, on 9th February, 2020) puts the total number of infected persons at 37, 558 and the total number of deaths at 813, with the majority of the cases occurring in Mainland China and a limited number of cases in 24 other countries world-wide.
What are Coronaviruses and why is this outbreak even an issue?
Coronaviruses have been responsible for respiratory illnesses among human populations in the past, the most well-known being SARS – the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, arising in southern China in 2003; MERS – the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, emerging in Saudi Arabia in 2012; and the common cold, which has been in circulation in the human population from time immemorial. The concern surrounding this 2019 virus is the fact that it is completely new to the human population, and new viruses tend to spread quickly to large numbers of people, because no one on earth has immunity to them, yet. Additionally, new viruses are somewhat unpredictable, in terms of how bad they’ll be, that is, how ill people will get, so there is always caution and concern when a new virus emerges.
Who has been getting ill?
So far, the vast majority of the persons getting this new virus have had only mild-to-moderate symptoms, with certain groups being at risk of more serious illness: Older persons, and persons with other chronic illnesses, including pre-existing lung disease, heart disease, or weakened immune systems, have been the patients most at risk or serious illness, requiring hospitalization; and account for most of the persons who have died of the virus, so far.
Transmission – how is it spread?
The way in which any Coronavirus is transmitted is pretty similar, that is via the spread of infectious respiratory droplets. The virus has to get to the cells that line the back of the nose and throat in order to infect its host. That can happen because you breathe in the virus, if someone coughs or sneezes directly in your path. Sometimes, infectious droplets might land on, or be transferred by hand to, surfaces in your environment, e.g. door-knobs, telephones, desks, or bathroom counters. You may put your hand on these surfaces and then put your hand up to your eyes, nose, or mouth, giving the virus a portal through which to enter your body
What are the symptoms of this new virus?
The symptoms that the new virus causes can mirror the common cold or other mild respiratory infections. One should look out for; fever, cough, sore throat, general body aches, and in some cases diarrhea and vomiting. Pay special attention to symptoms such as shortness of breath, extreme weakness, or prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting, especially among the elderly and children, as these are signs of more severe illness and should prompt an urgent visit to the nearest emergency room. It is worth noting that in the US and Europe, it is the middle of Influenza season right now. So, it is not uncommon at all for people to have flu-like symptoms such as these because of an Influenza infection or an infection with one of several other circulating viruses that cause an Influenza-like illness. The need to take preventive measures against ALL flu like illness is therefore of paramount importance.
Prevention – how do we stop it spreading?
There are several very basic steps that the general population can take to limit the spread of respiratory diseases of ANY kind, including the novel coronavirus. These include:
Washing your hands well, and often, with water soap and water. This practice should be observed especially after coughing, sneezing and using toilets.
Using tissue when coughing or sneezing, and covering your mouth and nose fully with it to prevent dispersion of infectious droplets. Once the tissue is used, dispose of it in a waste basket and wash your hands.
Avoiding the temptation to touch your eyes, nose and mouth with hands that haven’t just been washed.
Wearing facemask if you are sick, visiting sick patients or if you are ill and unavoidably have to travel through crowded places.
Maintaining the other healthy habits such as; a balanced diet, physical activity and adequate sleep
Washing vegetables and fruits well before consuming.
Avoiding, as much as possible, contact with infected people or using their personal belongings.
If you have diabetes, renal failure, heart disease, chronic lung disease, or immunodeficiency you should more so, overserve the above advice as you are more susceptible to contracting the virus and succumbing to its complications.
The members of the medical fraternity will be attending a Clinical Symposium on 2019 nCov on February 16th organized by the Trinidad & Tobago Medical Association (T&TMA). Healthcare professionals are urged to attend this meeting. For further information visit the T&TMA’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Trinidad-and-Tobago-Medical-Association-TTMA-447936868698813/. We here at the Health Plus Magazine will keep the you public up to date of the outcome of this very first meeting by the medical fraternity on the 2019 nCov.
So now we know: there’s a new virus in circulation of which we should be aware, but the methods of preventing it are the same ones we’ve been taught since childhood and the power to prevent its spread lies not only with the health system, but with each member of the public doing his or her part to contribute to good hygiene practices… Forewarned, as it is said, is forearmed.
Article done by
Dr. Visham Bhimull
Diploma in Family Medicine
With the assistance of
Dr. Avery Hinds
Scientific & Research Committee
Trinidad & Tobago Medical Association