FAQs on COVID-19 the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
1. What is the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces, they infect mostly bats, pigs and small mammals. They mutate easily and can spread from animals to humans, and from one human to another.
2. What do we know about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) so far?
The outbreak is understood to have originated in December 2019 in Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, the largest city in central China with a population of 11 million people. It is thought that wild animals are the source of the virus.
Chinese scientists believe that the virus might have jumped from bats to snakes, which were then sold in the market, and subsequently transmitted to humans. However, some scientists are skeptical of this conclusion. The market has since been shut down and disinfected, which makes it more difficult to identify the source animal.
3. How does the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread?
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is still unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people. It is thought that the virus is likely to be spread via respiratory droplets produced by an infected person. Therefore, the spread can occur from close contact (approximately 2 metres) with an infected person over a period of 30 minutes or more.
4. Can the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) be transmitted by someone with no symptoms (asymptomatic)?
It seems likely so. On Sunday (26th Jan 2020), Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said at a press briefing that they had found that people could spread the virus while asymptomatic. Two days later, a Chinese doctor repeated this at a press conference. The most recent case comes from Germany; German researchers described four business associates who became infected through asymptomatic transmission.
5. How long does the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) remain on surfaces such as tables, seats on public transport or gym equipment etc?
According to the US CDC, Coronaviruses generally do not survive long on inanimate surfaces. These viruses typically only survive on a surface for a few hours.
6. How different is this virus to a common case of influenza?
The virus strains are completely different. The Wuhan virus is a coronavirus whereas influenza (the flu) is caused by the influenza virus. There is an annual influenza vaccine available, but there is no vaccine against the Wuhan virus.
This means that it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population, such as elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems, to protect themselves. There are antiviral medications eg. tamiflu is available to treat influenza, but there is no specific treatment for the Wuhan virus or pneumonia. Treatment is supportive.
7. What symptoms should we be monitoring for at home, prior to visiting a GP?
The symptoms are the same as that of normal pneumonia.
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
8. How to protect yourself against the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
- 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 healthcare 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;
- Wear a surgical mask if you have flu-like respiratory symptoms (you may wear the surgical mask even without any display of symptoms to protect yourself);
- It is advised that surgical masks will suffice and there is no need to use N95 masks;
- If you choose to wear a face mask, ensure the mask covers both your mouth and nose.
9. Are there any substitutes for hand sanitisers given that many places are sold out?
According to the US CDC, washing your hands with plain soap and water is the best way to maintain hygiene and prevent the spread of infections. If you wish to use hand sanitiser, you should use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, not just any regular ones. Alternatives would be alcohol (eg. isopropyl 70% or ethyl alcohol 70%) or bleach to disinfect surfaces.
10. Is it safe to travel to China? Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves when travelling?
Avoid non-essential travel, especially to China. Otherwise, the protective measures are exactly the same as mentioned above.