Coronavirus Outbreak FAQ: N95 masks, safe meat, how to stay informed on latest as Covid-19 pandemic spreads further
The Indian government has set up a 24x7 helpline for queries about the virus and its victims, with the number of cases rising quickly in many Asian countries.
On the last day of the year 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to a "pneumonia outbreak" of unknown cause in Wuhan, in China's Hubei Province. Wuhan is the seventh-largest city in the most populated country in the world – home to some 11 million people. The epicentre of the outbreak is thought to be a wet market in Wuhan that sells seafood, animal meat and unregulated wild game meat, which has since been shut down, sanitized and in lockdown.
The earliest symptoms of respiratory infection in those who tested positive for the coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) go back to 8 December 2019. The virus has had ample time to spread like any common respiratory illness would in people – through coughs, sneezes, and close contact with an infected person. Scientists have found that the SARS-Cov-2 virus is most contagious in the week before and after symptoms start to appear.
Even now, as researchers work on potential treatments (nearly 70 FDA-approved drugs are currently being explored to treat Covid-19 infections) and a potential vaccine (40 reported candidates are at various stages of clinical trials), which is estimated to take between 12 and 18 months to develop, experts have stated.
There's little that can be done about a coronavirus infection that has already spread in your district or city. But there's plenty you can do to avoid being infected by the virus. Below is a comprehensive guide to the coronavirus, information on how to prevent getting infected, and how to keep tabs/stay informed with the latest information on its spread.
Q. What is the 2019 novel Coronavirus?
A novel coronavirus (CoV), or a new coronavirus, is a respiratory virus humans are susceptible to that hasn't been previously identified. The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV, or the SARS-CoV-2 for short) is a respiratory virus that was first discovered in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei Province in December 2019.
Q. Where did the coronavirus come from?
Health officials and research institutions are still working on identifying the exact origin/source of the 2019-nCoV, but suspect that the first human victim(s) was infected by a snake. Coronavirus is a large family of viruses of which only six can infect humans. The 2019-nCoV is one of them, and so are the SARS and MERS viruses.
The earliest reported cases of hospitalized people with the infection were a group of workers and customers at a local seafood wholesale market that also sold processed meats and live, consumable animals like poultry, donkey, sheep, pig, camel, fox, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles. The virus likely came from an infected animal; Chinese officials claim the virus jumped from snakes to humans.
Two other widely-recognized coronaviruses – SARS (which spread to humans from civet cats) and MERS (which spread to humans from camels) – also originated in animals. (something about SARS & China connection and dates. MERS a date for the virus)
Q. To what regions and countries has the infection spread to?
As of 24 March, 3,87,382 cases of the coronavirus infection have been confirmed in the following countries:
South Korea (9,037)
United Kingdom (6,726)
Cruise Ship (712)
Saudi Arabia (562)
South Africa (554)
Dominican Republic (245)
United Arab Emirates (198)
San Marino (187)
Costa Rica (158)
New Zealand (155)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (150)
North Macedonia (136)
Burkina Faso (99)
Sri Lanka (97)
Trinidad and Tobago (52)
Congo (Kinshasa) (45)
Cote d'Ivoire (25)
Equatorial Guinea (9)
El Salvador (5)
Congo (Brazzaville) (4)
Antigua and Barbuda (3)
Cabo Verde (3)
Central African Republic (3)
Saint Lucia (3)
Holy See (1)
Papua New Guinea (1)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1)
Q. What are some apparent symptoms of a coronavirus infection?
The following symptoms could manifest within 2 to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC, based on the incubation period of its close cousins, the MERS viruses.
Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
Q. How does nCoV-2019/SARS-Cov-2 spread?
When breathed, sneezed or coughed out, people with a coronavirus infection release tiny droplets (aerosols) containing the SARS-CoV-2. These particles have been shown to linger in the air for several hours, as per a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine. The study also determined how long the virus can live on certain surfaces, such as plastic and steel.
Every strain of coronavirus poses a different level of risk as far as transmission goes. Some are more easily passed on than others. Some may also be more virulent (dangerous) than others. Currently, there is no known way to predict how the virus will mutate in such a large population – we just have to hope for the best, and brace ourselves for the worst.
Scientists continue to look into the virus's transmission, the severity of infection in different cases, and other features of the virus and its behaviour to look for clues as to what vulnerabilities SARS-CoV-2 takes advantage of to replicate and cause severe infections/fatalities.
Q. Can the infection via raw or cooked meat of an infected animal?
In areas affected by the virus, WHO has advised taking extra precautions in live animal markets like that in the epicentre, Wuhan. Direct contact with live animals or surfaces they use, without having any protective equipment over your face and hands, is high-risk in an infected area.
As a meat consumer, medical experts recommend avoiding any raw or undercooked animal products – i.e., to cook all meat thoroughly – and be extra cautious when handling raw meat, milk or organs of animals to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked food items.
Q. Can you prevent a coronavirus infection?
As of 24 March, no vaccine exists that can prevent coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection in someone who has been exposed to it. The most effective way of staying safe from the infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus entirely.
Based on the behaviour of respiratory viruses in general, the CDC has outlined a bunch of everyday activities to steer clear of an infection:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid leaving home if you are sick. Do not step out of self-quarantine without a mask.
- Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Q. Can a mask help prevent coronavirus transmission?
There are many reports of face masks and surgical masks flying off shelves in cities the coronavirus outbreak has spread to. Experts, however, are divided over whether they are useful in preventing transmission of the airborne virus. The most commonly available variant – surgical masks, like the ones shown below, are not very good prevention tools, say experts.
"Routine surgical masks for the public are not effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air...they are loose, have no air filter and leave the eyes exposed," Dr David Carrington, a virologist at the University of London told BBC News.
But there are some specific modes of transmission that masks can help prevent – the "splash" from a sneeze or a cough, and transmission by hand-to-mouth contact. That said, wearing a mask limits the risk of transmission but doesn't guarantee safety. Dr Carrington maintains that the best way to avoid germs, as with any airborne illness, is to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, avoid touching your face and eyes, and avoid contact with people displaying symptoms of respiratory illness.
Wearing gloves isn't a very effective prevention method either, WHO says, since hand-washing is a far better prevention tool, and wearing gloves would make people less inclined to wash their hands.
Q. Is the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infection treatable?
As of 24 March, there is no suitable (or known) antiviral treatment for a SARS-CoV-2/2019-nCoV infection.
Infected individuals have been told to self-quarantine and seek medical care to help with any symptoms they have. For severe cases of the infection, treatment might need additional care (ICUs, for example) to support normal functioning of vital organs. This bottleneck – an insufficient number of available ICUs –is a big bottleneck for the health services in developed and developing nations alike.
That said, the genetic material of the virus has been sequenced in many countries and research labs around the world have free, open access to resources that can help understand the virus better, find treatments or vaccines against it. This greatly improves the chances of finding an effective treatment — including a potential vaccine to avoid getting infected in the first place.
"There are no approved vaccines or therapeutics for any of the respiratory coronaviruses," according to Vineet Menachery, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas—Galveston told Popular Mechanics. Some promising candidates that are making their way into the human trials "would likely be effective against this novel virus," he adds.
Q. How can I track the spread of coronavirus in my country/city?
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins has launched an online dashboard to track the spread of coronavirus worldwide. The dashboard is updated live with data from multiple sources – the WHO, and the Centers for Disease Control in the US, China and Europe. The resource displays a visualisation of the infection on a world map by country or region, along with a tally of confirmed cases, suspected cases, number of fatalities and number of patients that have recovered from the infection.
Specifically for India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has a frequently updated stats of the number of cases listed and displayed state-wise.
Q. How can I report or enquire about a coronavirus infection?
The Indian government has set up a 24x7 helpline for queries about the novel coronavirus, with the number of cases quickly rising across the world.
"A 24X7 call centre is active for responding to queries on ncov2020. Anyone seeking information can call on the number 011-23978046," the Union ministry of health said in a tweet. "If you seek any help, you may call to know details about District and State surveillance officers and in case any clinical query connect with Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) Officer."
Helpline for queries on Novel #coronavirus :
A 24*7 Call Centre is active for responding to queries on #ncov2020. Please make note of this number.@PMOIndia @drharshvardhan @AshwiniKChoubey @MoCA_GoI @AAI_Official @PIB_India @DDNewslive @shipmin_india @PIBHomeAffairs pic.twitter.com/H9ddGYlI5P
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) January 28, 2020
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