JAKARTA: Scientists are still trying to analyse a new strain of coronavirus that caused a pneumonia outbreak in China, with more than 400 people in China infected and nine people dead as of Wednesday (Jan 22).
The outbreak started in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province in December.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on Monday (Jan 20) that cases have been found in Beijing and Shenzen, adding to last week’s confirmed cases in Thailand and Japan from people who had travelled from Wuhan.
The WHO refers to the unknown virus as novel coronavirus. The WHO states the most likely source of this is an animal, and there is some limited human-to-human transmission between those in close contact.
Scientists have yet to find the first animal that transmitted it to humans.
HUMAN TRANSMISSION NOW POSSIBLE
The first case came from Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. On Dec 31, China reported 27 people had suffered from symptoms of pneumonia such as fever and difficulty with breathing, and there were signs of abnormal infiltration in the patients’ lungs.
The Chinese government closed the market to prevent the spread of the disease.
Novel coronavirus is a virus from coronavirus family. It’s a close relative of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) first reported in China in 2003.
Wuhan novel coronavirus is a new strain of coronavirus that has never been identified by scientists on humans. The virus has not been given an official name by the WHO.
But genetic analysis indicates the virus has an 89 per cent similarity to the SARS virus, which is a relative of the SARS bat virus, also a member of coronavirus. However, this does not mean the novel coronavirus comes from bats.
For instance, MERS also has a 88 per cent genetic closeness to bat coronavirus, but MERS spreads to human through camels. Investigation on the zoonotic novel coronavirus is still ongoing.
Common medical symptoms of coronavirus infection are fever and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, the infection can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.
This is not the first time in the last decade that a virus from an animal was reported to infect humans.
In 2012, for example, we were shocked when media reported a viral respiratory illness caused by MERS. The disease created concerns over transmission and travel during the busy Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage period.
Five years before, the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic caused fatalities of more than 5,700 people globally.
In 2013, avian influenza (H7N9) from China was reported to have infected 1,567 people and killed 615 there.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES SHOULD STILL BE TAKEN
There is currently no vaccine available to prevent transmission. But we still can do things to prevent the disease from spreading.
The most important thing we can do for prevention is to wash our hands with soap. Cleaning your hands is easy and cheap. A number of disease transmission is through hands. So, keeping our hands clean is crucial.
When you cough and sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or with your arm (not with your palm).
Use a mouth and nose mask when you are sick or in a public space. Dispose of the used tissue and mask in the trash and wash your hands.
Avoid contact with farm and wild animals. Cook meat and eggs thoroughly.
If you plan to visit a country where this virus is found such as China, Thailand and Japan, be careful and take care of your health.
If you experience symptoms similar to those above after going to these countries, don’t panic – go immediately to the hospital and report your conditions.
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Ririn Ramadhany is Researcher at the National Institute of Health Research and Development (NIHRD) at the Ministry of Health in Indonesia. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.