So far, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has spread from Wuhan, China to France, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, the US, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and Macao. With these new developments, people across the world are asking questions about their safety and susceptibility to the new virus — thanks to the media, global panic is at an all time high, but is it warranted? In this article, we will walk you through all the facts and figures.
What is the Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s; they are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds and get their name from their crown-like shape. The new strain of the coronavirus (temporarily named “2019-nCoV”) does not match any other known virus, which is cause for concern because when a virus is new, it is difficult to gauge how it affects people.
What are the Symptoms?
Much like SARS and MERS, 2019-nCoV causes pneumonia — the infection of one or both lungs. In fact, experts suspect that this novel coronavirus causes a spectrum of disease ranging from asymptomatic to fatal. Even in the most lethal cases, affected individuals initially experience mild symptoms like a fever, dry cough, and muscle pain; this is why it can take about a week before a 2019-nCoV victim seeks medical care.
How Lethal is 2019-nCoV and Should we be Worried?
So far, five people in the United States and about five in Canada have been diagnosed with 2019-nCoV. With live global updates being shared every three hours and with articles like “China Coronavirus — Latest News on the Deadly Outbreak” and “Coronavirus: Whole world ‘must take action’, warns WHO” making the news, the question on everybody’s mind is: “Am I at risk?”
While the red flags raised by scientists, doctors, and public health officials are warranted and all updated statistics on the outbreak are true, the reality is that you really dont have much to worry about, especially sitting all the way in the US or Canada. Fortunately for all of us, the virus seems to cause only minor symptoms in people who are young and healthy. A report from Los Angeles Times confirmed that “most of the 41 deaths tied to the coronavirus to date have been in people who were at least 50 years old with underlying medical problems or weakened immune systems”.
In fact, according to the the Medical Director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (i.e. William Schaffner) “Influenza is going to cause many more thousands of hospitalizations and many thousands more deaths this winter season than any new coronavirus”.
Think about it, the new coronavirus has infected 2,700 people, which is about 0.00003% of the global population. Almost all of the cases are in China, where the high death toll is a product of victims being old and sick well before contracting the virus. Outside of China, there have been around 50 cases, none of them fatal and all of them posing a low risk to the public. As Matt Walsh from the DailyWire puts it, “of the approximately 327,000,000 people in the U.S., approximately 326,999,995 do not have the coronavirus.” Despite this reality, journalists and experts continue to label the “Wuhan flu” as the start of a pandemic, with some even going as far as comparing it to the 1918–19 Spanish flu or the 2003 SARS pandemic.In fact, a few weeks ago, scientists suggested that the “transmission of the new coronavirus could be accelerated by a small number of highly contagious individuals coming into contact with a large number of people”.
While this is true, the good news is that this time around, governments, public health officials, institutions, doctors, and nurses across borders are acting fast by isolating, quarantining, researching, and reporting on any and all cases of 2019-nCoV. This, along with the speed with which the Chinese published the genetic sequence of the virus, has allowed scientists to fast-track the development of the prototype vaccine for the virus, something that took microbiologists weeks to do during the 2003 SARS outbreak. As Annie Sparrow (an Assistant Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at Icahn School of Medicine) — put it: “experience with other epidemics has shown us that a targeted approach can contain and arrest the spread of a virus — even more effectively than sweeping quarantines”. And this is exactly how global authorities have responded to 2019-nCoV.
How to Can Protect Yourselves if the Panic Persists
Since global media and news is disproportionately populated with scary graphics of the effects of the disease, references to its being a pandemic (which it is not), and articles on how to stay safe, it is possible that — despite the facts in this blog — you start worrying about “being next”. If you fear contracting the virus (even though it’s highly unlikely), there are a few simple precautions that you can take:
- Do not plan a visit to China anytime soon.
- Frequently clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, especially after coughing, sneezing or using the washroom, and before handling or preparing food.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider.
- Wear medical-grade masks in heavily crowded areas.
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue — throw tissue away immediately and wash hands
- Avoid consuming raw or under-cooked animal products. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.