The outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus, named nCoV, in Wuhan, China has put public health authorities across the world on high alert. A part of the family of coronaviruses that causes infections, ranging from the common cold to the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the novel coronavirus, nCoV has to date claimed 170 lives.
As the UAE reports its first case of nCoV, Dr Wael Elamin, Consultant Microbiologist and Infection Control Doctor at King’s College Hospital London Dubai, explains how best to protect yourself and prevent the spread of the virus.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China?
At the end of 2019, there was an outbreak of predominantly upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in Wuhan, China, that was attributed to a new strain of coronavirus.
Coronaviruses were discovered in 1968. They are a common cause of the common cold. About 10-20 per cent of patients presenting with symptoms of common cold are due to a coronavirus.
In 2003 we had a new strain of coronavirus, which was known as the SARS coronavirus. In 2012 we had another strain called the MERS.
But this is a new strain that hasn’t been previously identified in patients with respiratory tract infections.
What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus, or nCoV?
The symptoms are similar to others but there are slightly different symptoms in groups of patients, predominantly the elderly, who would have severe respiratory tract infection. Otherwise it behaves very much like the coronaviruses that were discovered previously but we are waiting for more data to come out.
The symptoms that have been reported consistently are fever and cough. And there are patients who will have difficulty breathing, which would require hospitalisation.
How can a patient differentiate the symptoms of the virus from that of a common cold?
There are epidemiological links that we have to look for. If you have visited China over the past 14 days of your presentation with symptoms of lower respiratory tract infection such as cough and difficulty in breathing, you should consult your nearest health provider.
Other people with symptoms of cold, which is very common at this time of the year, should do what they think is reasonable.
Not all patients with common cold will need to go to a hospital but those with concerns should always consult with their healthcare provider.
How can a patient determine whether they are infected with the coronavirus?
Should you fulfil the epidemiological criteria – a visit to China in the past 14 days – and have the symptoms, then you would have to undergo a test, which has been circulated to public health laboratories in all the countries.
What’s the treatment for nCoV?
There isn’t any treatment for coronavirus. People with severe symptoms will be provided with supportive treatment as necessary and required by the healthcare provider.
How can you prevent its spread?
Certain airports including the airports in the UAE have started screening programmes, based on temperature monitoring, for passengers returning from China.
Once a patient is identified as at risk they will be dealt with public health authorities for the Wuhan coronavirus.
With regard to infection control, and this applies to all infections, maintaining good hygiene in terms of clean hands is necessary. Make sure you wash your hands for more than 20 seconds or keep a sanitising alcohol gel handy and use it as often as you should. And use a tissue when you sneeze and bin it immediately.
With regard to infection control, and this applies to all infections, maintaining good hygiene in terms of clean hands is necessary. Make sure you wash your hands for more than 20 seconds or keep a sanitising alcohol gel handy and use it as often as you should. And use a tissue when you sneeze and bin it immediately.Dr Wael Elamin, Consultant Microbiologist and Infection Control Doctor at King’s College Hospital London Dubai
Congregations of symptomatic people in places usually lead to transmission of these diseases. So avoid places such as a hospital if you can.
Should parents be worried if children show symptoms of respiratory infection?
The influenza virus, rhinovirus and the respiratory syncytial virus are circulating as usual. So if a child is unwell, they are likely to have what is common. It is less likely for any of these children to be suffering from any of the coronaviruses.
The respiratory viruses circulating in the UAE are seasonal. In the winter season, starting October, normally we see an increase in influenza A and B. Come spring, we see a little bit more of rhinovirus. The respiratory syncytial virus continues throughout the year.
Most of them are self-resolving and would not require antibiotic treatment unless they have severe symptoms of pneumonia, as assessed by a clinician in a hospital.
What is your advice to people?
This is a novel coronavirus that we do not know much about and how it will behave. It is very important to treat all illnesses equally with due diligence and try and avoid catching any of them. All of them could be risky for particular groups of patients. One is not more dangerous than the others, if I may say so. All of them should have a similar weighting in terms of trying to prevent catching them.
The only virus that we have vaccination for at the moment is influenza. I strongly recommend that all people get their influenza vaccine as it reduces both the severity of the illness and the chances of catching the disease. This is the only one that’s preventable and is probably, if not more, risky than the coronaviruses.
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