Is Coronavirus an impending doom? Videos of civilians dropping dead in Wuhan and footages of hospital personnel there dressed in something that looks like spacesuit are going viral, and it seems like humanity counts its last months on the planet. But is it that bad? Fortunately, no, the situation is not that bad. In just a few weeks, everything will go back to normal, and all this chaos triggered by the outbreak will be remembered by an impeccable feat of Chinese authorities- building a thousand beds fully equipped hospital in only seven days.
That being said, let’s take a closer look at the Coronavirus, the disease it causes, treatments, precautionary measures, and what you can do to protect yourself against it.
The source of all the info in the article: World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is Coronavirus?
The virus responsible for the outbreak in Wuhan belongs to a large group of Coronaviruses. All viruses in the group share some characteristics- for example, the structure of their RNA, genome structure, set of replication enzymes, etc. Those „highly technical“ characteristics of Coronaviruses fall into the realm of microbiology, and we won’t further discuss them in this article- they’re not crucial for the talk.
The infections caused by Coronaviruses
Coronaviruses have been around for a long time, causing mild respiratory infections in humans and gastrointestinal diseases in animals. In nature, the reservoir of infection is animals, and people get infected by sharing the same environment with them. That’s how the Wuhan outbreak started. Between humans, the disease is spread by an airborne route.
In the past, Coronaviruses were to blame for a mild common cold- the outbreaks would pop here and there, causing nothing more than a runny nose or flu-like symptoms.
In 2003 the attention of the public was drawn to the unusually aggressive respiratory virus that caused severe lung damage in some patients (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS). The SARS virus belongs to the group of Coronaviruses. This was the first time a member of the group causes such severe respiratory infection in humans. What was the death rate of SARS? The rate varied a lot among different age groups, ranging from under 1% in persons 24 years of age or younger, to 15% in persons 44 to 64 years old. Altogether, the death rate of SARS was estimated at 10%.
The Coronavirus everybody is buzzing about these days seems to be substantially less lethal than the SARS virus. It’s too early to tell, but judging by the numbers available so far, it appears that the death rate is at about 2%. A more detailed epidemiological insight into the viruses „death profile“ is not available yet.
The symptoms of Coronavirus infection
As mentioned, Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections in humans. The symptoms are unspecific and include runny nose, sore throat, cough, breathing difficulties, shiver, fever, fatigue, or malaise. In other words, judging by the symptoms, one could not make a distinction between Coronavirus infection and common cold or flu.
Compared with other seasonal respiratory infections, the virus tends to cause complications such as pneumonia or kidney failure more often. People with chronic diseases such as diabetes or pulmonary diseases are at higher risk of complications.
The footages of people dropping dead on the streets of Wuhan are a hoax.
Treatments for the Coronavirus
Like for almost all viruses out there, the treatment is symptomatic. This means that it is focused on preventing complications, supporting the patient’s immune system as much as possible, and keeping an eye on those at higher risk of complications. In other words, Coronavirus infection is treated like a common cold or flu.
In patients with a severe form of the disease, doctors might reach out for antibiotics as a precaution of bacterial infection on a terrain of viral pneumonia, for example.
What can you do to protect yourself against Coronavirus?
Prevention is key.
Proper personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. This kills microorganisms on your hands and reduces the risk of infection.
Social distancing is another tactic. At public places, maintain at least 1 meter distance from other people. The infections are transmitted by small droplets when someone sneezes- being too close to the person increases chances of you breathing in the droplets containing the virus. Public transportation, shopping malls, train stations, and similar places should be avoided whenever possible.
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth. The virus invades its host through the mucous membranes of the body. It is extremely sensitive to external conditions, but once it reaches its receptors on epithelial cells, it quickly replicates and continues to invade the host.
If you have symptoms of flu or a common cold, ask for medical help. Most people who get infected recover quickly and thoroughly. However, some get complications that are challenging to treat. This is why it is essential to seek medical help early- just so that doctors could timely diagnose a severe form of a disease and start appropriate treatment.
Masks- yes or no? A mask can help in preventing the spread of the infection. However, when it comes to Coronavirus (and other viral infections), its effectiveness is limited. The mask should be worn correctly and replaced with a new one every 2 hours. Earlier research mask effectiveness showed that they are not as nearly as important as the preventive measures listed above. While wearing a mask does reduce the risk of infection, the level of protection it provides is controversial.
What makes Coronavirus a threat to the world?
The importance of the infection lies in the fact that it has the potential to affect large percentage of population in short period (particularly working population) that way significantly slowing down the entire economy. While the death rate among those infected by the virus in Wuhan is not negligible, it is far below that of the SARS outbreak in 2003. Also, the situation is not new to public health experts- humanity faces the threat of pandemic viruses every ten years or so. From time to time, conditions for the perfect storm align, and the outbreak that has the potential to spread across the entire globe bursts. That’s the risk of living in a modern world in which one person may be in the far East and 24 hours later walking around Manhattan or Toronto.
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