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FAQ: Wuhan coronavirus and its outbreak

CNA enlisted the help of medical experts to help answer some of your most asked questions.

FAQ: Wuhan coronavirus and its outbreak

People are seen wearing protective face masks at Orchard Road, Singapore on Jan 28, 2020. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: The coronavirus originating from China’s Wuhan city is spreading quickly in the country as well as across borders since it was first declared on the last day of 2019. 

Since then, the deadly pathogen has killed more than 200 people and infected nearly 10,000 in China alone. It has also reached more than 20 places across the world, with Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand among the highest counts of confirmed cases. 

In Singapore, there have been 16 confirmed cases so far, all imported.  

CNA asked readers to submit questions on the coronavirus outbreak and had an overwhelming response. Questions ranged from how the virus is spread and whether it will affect pregnant women and their children. 

To answer these, we enlisted the help of medical experts such as those from the Duke-NUS Medical School - Professor Gregory Gray, Assistant Professor Danielle Anderson and Professor Wang Linfa, who was also part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency committee looking into the virus outbreak -  as well as Professor Benjamin Neuman, chair of Biological Sciences from Texas A&M University. 

Their lightly edited answers are as follows:

Question: What is the difference between symptoms of Wuhan virus and flu/common cold? 

Prof Gray: They are very similar. Clinically, it is difficult to distinguish between the two; one really needs to use laboratory-based tests in order to do so.

Prof Wang: Not much.

Asst Prof Anderson: The symptoms of the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus are very similar and include fever, coughing and a runny nose.

File photo of a person using a microscope (MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

Q: Can people recover naturally from the Wuhan coronavirus just like the common cold?

Prof Gray: Yes. The vast majority will fully recover after their illness. 

Prof Wang: Yes, and the majority do.  

Asst Prof Anderson: Yes, people can recover naturally following infection and the majority of patients (98 per cent) do indeed recover. But while it is possible to recover from infection, some patients can develop severe disease and pneumonia. 

Q: How does the virus affect pregnant women and will it be transmitted to the unborn child?

Prof Wang: It is not known yet.

Prof Gray: Unknown, but pregnant women are often at increased risk of respiratory infections.

Asst Prof Anderson: Currently there is not enough information available to determine if there is maternal transmission to the unborn child.

A pregnant woman may develop more severe disease as they are immunocompromised and are more susceptible to complications of respiratory infections.

Q: How should parents protect children under the age of 1 from the coronavirus? 

Prof Gray: Avoid having them come in contact with the public, especially people with respiratory signs and symptoms.

Q: Can the virus be spread through water such as via swimming pools? Or through one’s eyes?

Prof Gray: We don’t know, but other respiratory viruses can, such as adenovirus which is a hardier type of virus.

Prof Wang: Transmission through the swimming pool is unlikely unless the person is swimming very close to an infected person. Yes, it is possible to be infected through the eyes.

Asst Prof Anderson: It is unlikely that the coronavirus can be spread through water, especially chlorinated swimming pools. Coronaviruses are also not known to be spread though the eyes.

There is an anecdotal case of infection through the eye and, if this infection did occur, it is an extremely rare event.

Children at a swimming pool. (Photo: TODAY) Children at a swimming pool in Singapore. (File photo: TODAY)

Q: How are those infected with the coronavirus being treated? What’s the success rate?

Prof Wang: It is mostly just normal hospital care for severe cases. I have been told all confirmed cases (of the Wuhan coronavirus) are doing well in Singapore. There are drugs being tried in China, but it is too early to scientifically gauge their success rate.

Asst Prof Anderson: If a patient has respiratory symptoms they may require breathing support. In milder cases, they can be given an intravenous drip to maintain blood pressure. 

Fluids can also be given in cases of diarrhoea, and ibuprofen or Panadol can be used for pain relief.

Prof Gray: There is no specific treatment yet recognised as effective. Success rates are being determined now for supportive care. The mortality rate is low, less than 3 per cent, and likely will be lower as more people fully recover. (According to the WHO, global fatality rate for SARS patients was at 11 per cent)

Q: Is the Wuhan coronavirus going to mutate further? 

Prof Gray: We don’t know, but the good news is that so far the 2019-nCoV virus is not changing.

Prof Wang: All viruses mutate in nature. But so far, the Wuhan coronavirus seems to be quite stable. 

Q: Will tropical weather affect the spread of the virus? If yes, how? 

Prof Gray: Ultraviolet light can often kill respiratory viruses.  

Prof Wang: No scientific evidence for that yet. 

Q: How do you think this coronavirus outbreak will end?

Prof Neuman: As a person who likes to make anti-viral drugs, things that actually slow down the virus, I can say that (better weather patterns or health measures) are probably not going to be the end (of the virus outbreak). And a vaccine will probably not going to be the end. 

It’s old-fashioned stuff like quarantines - basically keeping infected people away from healthy people that actually beat viruses like this. The risk is there are only so many quarantine facilities available in mainland China and only so many facilities to keep people properly treated while they are being treated for the virus. So if there are too many people that turn up sick, and overwhelm the systems that are there, that is potentially a risk.

In this photo taken on Jan 25, 2020, medical staff wearing protective clothing arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan. (Photo: AFP/Hector Rertamal)

We’ve seen China build new hospitals very quickly... so I believe they realise this possible risk and are trying to combat it - which is actually very good news.  

Q: Can you predict how long the virus will last?

Prof Gray: I don’t expect to see a quick resolution. We are seeing the epidemic expand into other countries now. 

Prof Wang: No expert can do such a prediction as this is a highly complex matter. Even the experts at WHO are monitoring and assessing daily.

However, the next two weeks will be critical when the Chinese New Year holiday ends in China. If we see a decrease in two to three weeks, I am hopeful we can control this.

Asst Prof Anderson: It is difficult to predict when the peak of infection will occur. If the quarantine measures are effective and patients can be isolated for 14 days, the outbreak should end.

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Source: CNA/kk


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