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Coronavirus: Should South Africans be Alarmed?

We have taken the time out to compile and answer a list of questions aimed at removing the fear that comes with facing the unknown.

The outbreak of a new coronavirus has sparked fear and anxiety around the world. Since the first cases were detected in central China in December, more than 310 confirmed cases in more than 30 countries and territories outside mainland China.

Infections inside China stand at 74 597. Experts say that for the most part, global panic over the Wuhan coronavirus is unproductive and unwarranted: The public should take precautions to avoid getting sick and educate themselves to prevent ignorance induced panic.

We have taken the time out to compile and answer a list of questions aimed at removing the fear that comes with facing the unknown.

Coronavirus
Photographer: Dimitri Karastelev | Source: Unsplash

What is 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses known for containing strains that cause potentially deadly diseases in mammals and birds. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is a virus strain, first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China that has only spread in people since December 2019. Health experts are closely monitoring the situation because little is known about this new virus, and it has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some people.

How does the virus spread?

Like other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, the coronavirus spreads from person to person when nearby. Droplets of bodily fluids - such as saliva or mucus from an infected person are dispersed in the air or on surfaces by coughing or sneezing. These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face.

According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. It is still unknown how long the virus can survive outside a host, but for some other known viruses, the range is between a few hours or months.

What are the symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have contracted the virus have been reported to suffer from coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people get admitted to the hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Sick Day accessories
Photographer: Kelly Sikkema | Source: Unsplash

Who is at risk of becoming infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

People who have been exposed to people infected with 2019 Novel Coronavirus and those exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness who have travelled from China in the last 14 days. Like all people suffering illness, patients who may be affected by this virus should be treated with compassion and not suspicion.  We should all work to prevent actions that could perpetuate a stigma attached to 2019 Novel Coronavirus or appear to be targeted at people from other countries living in your community.

Why has the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency?

According to the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries. Authorities are concerned about it spreading to countries with weaker health systems. Tedros described the virus as an "unprecedented outbreak" that has been met with an "unprecedented response" and praised the "extraordinary measures" Chinese authorities had taken. However, Tedros also cautioned against excessive travel restrictions which could "unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade". He added: "Global connectedness is a weakness in this outbreak, but it is also our greatest strength."

Should South African’s panic?

There is no reason for South African's to panic. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. There is however need to be vigilant. As a result of our direct links and high volume of travel to China, South Africa is among thirteen African countries identified by the WHO as priority zones for containing the spread of the virus. This means that caution must be exercised by taking preventative steps to ensure that we are not infested with the virus. A new and unknown virus is often scary and many people are worried," says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional head for Africa. "But all efforts to combat the novel coronavirus must be based on sound science."

Coronavirus
Photographer: Dimitri Karastelev | Source: Unsplash

Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty.
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Maintain at least 1-metre distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth because if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as usual.

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