Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that causes disease in mammals and birds. In humans, the virus causes respiratory infections which are typically mild but, in rare cases, can be fatal. A novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified. Coronavirus is zoonotic, that means they are transmitted from animal to people. It has started from the Wuhan seafood market in the Hubei province of China and has spread to Thailand, Singapore and many other countries. Human transmission of the virus has also been proven.
Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are 229E (alpha coronavirus), NL63 (alpha coronavirus), 0C43 (beta coronavirus), HKU1 (beta coronavirus), MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS) and lastly 2019-nCoV (2019 novel coronavirus).
Symptoms of the novel coronavirus infection are having a cold, fever, shortness of breath, failure, headache, nasal irritation, cough, pneumonia, respiratory distress, kidney failure etc. If the symptoms start like the common cold and have transformed into respiratory distress one should immediately seek treatment. The matter of concern is that the behaviour of the virus is unknown. Once the virus enters the human body it takes 14 days to express the symptoms. The virus may spread even during the incubation period. The long-term effect of this virus is not yet known. Children and senior citizens are extremely vulnerable to the new virus.
2019-nCoV has infected more than 12,000 people so far and more than 250 people are already dead. One contagious person on an average can spread this to 1-3 persons. If it is more than one that means the disease has become independent. The virus will not be destroyed by itself. If anyone visits any country which has coronavirus cases, within 14 days have a fever (100° F/38° C), sore throat, cough, and respiratory distress, has the chance of being infected by the novel coronavirus.
One can get affected by the novel coronavirus by the infected person’s cough, sneeze, touching the affected person, handshake with patients and from infected animals. The virus has no vaccine yet.
To prevent infection from the virus you should frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or washing hands with soap and water by rubbing for at least 20 seconds; when coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands; avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough; if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider; when visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals; The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
The writer is a gerontologist and a public health specialist.