What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms?

What are the symptoms and how does it spread from person to person, and when should you call a doctor?

Coronavirus: Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficultie.  Photograph:iStock

Coronavirus: Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficultie. Photograph:iStock

 

What is Covid-19 - the illness that started in Wuhan?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?

The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

In Ireland, the medical advice is that if you have recently travelled from areas affected by coronavirus, you should call the HSE to inform them. If you are well and have not been in contact with coronavirus, you will be told to watch out for symptoms over the next 14 days. You can continue with your daily life and go to work as usual.

If you have had close contact with a person who has coronavirus, you will be monitored for 14 days. A doctor will phone you daily to make sure you remain well. You will be asked to stay separate from other people as much as you can for 14 days. This includes not going to work.

If you’ve been to an affected area in the last 14 days and have a cough, fever (high temperature), feel short of breath or have difficulty breathing people are advised to phone their GP or emergency department, stay indoors, avoid contact with other people, follow this advice even if your symptoms are mild

More HSE advice on what to do if you think you have been exposed to the virus can be found here.

Should I avoid overseas travel?

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised against all non-essential travel to China, and against all travel to the Chinese province of Hubei.

 

The full travel advice to Irish nationals is available

here.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere.

How many people have been affected?

As of February 25th, the outbreak has affected 80,000 people globally. In mainland China there have been 2,663 deaths among 77,658 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei. More than 12,000 people affected in China have already recovered.

The coronavirus has spread to at least other 30 other countries including Japan which also had hundreds of cases from a cruise ship, Italy, South Koream Hong Kong, Taiwan, France, Iran, the UK and the Philippines.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2 per cent in the epicentre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere.

For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1 per cent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10 per cent.

Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.

Have there been other coronaviruses?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35 per cent of about 2,500 people who have been infected.

Is the outbreak a pandemic and should we panic?

No. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children. – Guardian