Sequel to the first reported cases of acute respiratory syndrome in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China at the end of December 2019, Chinese authorities have identified the main causative agent to be the novel coronavirus.
The Outbreak has rapidly infected thousands of Chinese citizens and spread to a number of other countries. Cases have now been detected in hosts of countries in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America.
The new Strain of the virus which was identified on January 7, 2020, and named 2019-novel coronavirus (2019-cNov) has not been previously identified in humans. It is pertinent to understand that outbreak of the novel viral infections among people are of great public health concern especially when there is little information on its characteristics, mode of transmission, the severity of the resulting infection and curative measures.
The fast-moving infection, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. It has claimed hundreds of lives and prompted Chinese authorities to quarantine several major cities. Furthermore, Coronaviruses are common, and typically cause mild respiratory conditions, such as a cough or runny nose but Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are more severe and deadly. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has now surpassed that of the SARS epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003.
There were around 8,100 cases of SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – reported during the eight-month outbreak. More than 32,000 cases of 2019-not have been recorded with about 800 deaths since the outbreak of the virus and the central Hubei province, China is the worst-affected where thousands of confirmed cases have been recorded which has also seen most of the deaths as a result of the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about a further increase in a number of cases. This was based on the fact that the virus is of human-to-human transmission. Therefore, the number of people to have contracted the virus could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. WHO experts at Imperial College London suggested that there could be as many as 100, 000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30000 and 200000.
The incubation period of coronavirus remains unknown but sources say it could be between 10 and 14 days. This has contributed hugely to the severity of the disease. The 2019-nCoV seems to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, leads to shortness of breath. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. It has been reported that most patients who died from the virus had pre-existing conditions.
The 2019-nCov origin has been linked to illegally traded wildlife at the Wuhan city’s seafood market, which sells live animals including bats, rabbits, and marmots. However, the exact source of the outbreak has not been identified. Although scientists have pointed out that the original source of the virus is either bats or snakes.
A growing number of countries have advised their citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to China and many have announced screening measures for passengers arriving from the country. The Chinese authorities have introduced a number of measures to halt the virus spread.
Moreso, travel restrictions have been imposed on a number of cities in Hubei province and people have been mandated to wear face masks in public places.
The Chinese government has closed a number of temples, the Forbidden City and places where social gathering takes place. Also, this move was meant to resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemics and protect lives.
There is currently no specific anti-viral treatment for the new coronavirus, so people with the infection are currently being treated for their symptoms. This has made it more difficult for the vulnerable members of the population- the elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems to protect themselves.
Although, scientists and virologists are working on vaccines but have warned one is unlikely to be available for mass distribution before 2021. The WHO has provided measures to prevent more cases of the outbreak, which include hand and respiratory hygiene as well as safe food practices; avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections; and avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
Avoiding eating raw or undercooked animal products is also advised. Those with the symptoms of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) were also enjoined to practice “cough etiquette”, including maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or the inside of an elbow and washing of hands regularly.