By now, we have all heard about the outbreak of a new virus in China that has infected more than 600 people and claimed at least 17 lives, while spreading to other countries around the world. As of today (24th Jan), Singapore has three confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), also known as the Wuhan virus. Other countries which have confirmed cases include Japan, Korea, Thailand, the United States, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Disease modeling experts from Imperial College, London suggest that case numbers reported by China are conservative, issuing a report on Wednesday (22nd Jan) stating that 4000 people could currently be infected.
Its emergence on our shores has fueled fears of a deadly epidemic reminiscent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, H1N1 influenza in 2009, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012.
Here’s what you need to know about WuHan Virus:
What is the WuHan Virus and how did it happen?
The Wuhan virus belongs to a family of viruses known as coronavirus, which include SARS and MERS. These viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces, infect mostly bats, pigs and small mammals. But they mutate easily and can spread from animals to humans, and from one human to another.
The outbreak is understood to have originated in December 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.
How is the WuHan Virus spread?
The WuHan virus is believed to spread much like the common flu does – by droplet and contact, for example coughing, kissing or saliva contact. For now, virologists say that the Wuhan virus is likely not as infectious as the SARS virus, with a current reported 2% death rate. But there are concerns that the virus could further mutate to become more lethal.
What are the symptoms and when do you suspect that you have it?
Seek medical help or go to A&E immediately if:
- You have fever OR cough OR upper respiratory symptoms OR breathlessness, and
- You have travelled from mainland China within the past 14 days, or
- You have visited a hospital in mainland China 14 days before onset of illness, or
- You have had close contact with a confirmed or suspected case of Wuhan virus
Are there drugs or vaccines to treat or prevent Wuhan virus?
There is no vaccine to protect against coronaviruses. There is also no specific treatment to cure illnesses caused by coronaviruses. Patients receive supportive treatment at hospitals and generally recover on their own after some time.
You should consider getting a flu vaccine if you are travelling to places where there are confirmed or suspected cases to prevent you from contracting influenza symptoms that may mislead screening authorities at temperature checkpoints.
What can I do to protect myself against the WuHan Virus?
- Wear a surgical mask if you have flu-like respiratory symptoms
- Even if you have no symptoms, you can wear a surgical mask if you are going to be going out in public and having person-to-person contact
- It is advised that surgical masks will suffice and there is no need to use N95 masks
- Take the same protective measures you would take against the flu: wash your hands frequently with soap, cover your mouth with tissue paper or your hands when coughing or sneezing, and stay away from people who are sick
- See a doctor if you feel unwell
Should I cancel my trip to China?
According to the latest travel advisory issued on Thursday (23rd Jan) by the Ministry of Health (MOH), Singaporeans should avoid travelling to Wuhan. China has imposed a travel halt in Wuhan as all flights out of the city have been cancelled and trains, buses and ferries suspended.
MOH reminds the public to continue to exercise caution and pay close attention to personal hygiene when travelling to the rest of China. MOH advises that all travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, and also inform their doctor of their travel history.
According to the World Health Organization, the Wuhan coronavirus is an emergency in China but is not yet a public health emergency of global concern. However, as the situation is rapidly evolving, all of us should continue to stay abreast with the latest updates and news reports.
[This article is written on 23rd January 2020]