Should I be worried about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak?

As news of the new coronavirus sweeps the world, it’s easy to succumb to panic. The number of victims is steadily rising, with over 7,700 confirmed cases and 170 deaths by January 30th, 2020.

While scientists are scrambling to find ways to contain the virus, two key questions arise:

  1. Should I be worried about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak?
  2. What can I do to protect myself?

Let’s first go over what we know about the 2019-nCoV, as the virus has come to be known.

What we know about the 2019-nCoV so far

Here’s what we know:

The origin:

The virus is believed to have spread from a local seafood market in Wuhan, China. Public health officials first informed the World Health Organization of the outbreak last December.

Scientists are still unsure of the type of animal the virus originated from. The 2019-nCoV belongs to a family coronaviruses which commonly spread between animals. In rare cases, mutations can spread to humans, causing flu-like symptoms, or worse, upper respiratory infections.

The numbers

As of January 30, 2019, there are over 7,700 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus strain:

  • Mainland China: 7,700 confirmed cases. 170 deaths.
  • Meanwhile, other parts of Asia that are affected are: Thailand, 14. Hong Kong, 8. Japan, 7. Taiwan and Macau, 5. South Korea and Malaysia, 5. Vietnam, 2. Nepal and Cambodia, 1.
  • USA confirmed 5 cases: California, 2. Washington State, 1. Illinois, 1. Arizona, 1.
  • Canada confirmed 3 cases. France, 4. Germany, 1.
  • There have been no deaths outside of China.

Human-to-human transmission

There is one known case of human-to-human transmission.

While most of these cases have a direct connection to Wuhan, one German man who had not been to China, fell ill after close contact with a coworker who came from Beijing. This suggests the virus can spread through human-to-human transmission.

What’s being done

Massive efforts are underway to stop the 2019-nCoV from spreading.

China is taking drastic steps for containment. Right now, approximately 46 million of its citizens are under partial or full lockdowns. Two hospitals in Wuhan are also being rapidly built to handle the influx of patients.

Meanwhile, the United States and several other countries are now flying out their citizens out of Wuhan. Airports around the world are closely monitoring people with thermal scanners and questionnaires.

How about a cure?

Like the common cold, there is no simple cure for the new coronavirus.

Scientists are hard at work to create a vaccine. But right now, the best thing doctors can do is to closely monitor patients for viral pneumonia. Unfortunately, there are no antiviral drugs currently responding to this virus.

Am I at risk?

Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering

Vice interviewed Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases doctor and professor at the University of Toronto who studies how air travel influences the dynamics outbreaks. Bogoch has extensively studied the new coronavirus infection.

According to Bogoch, there is very little risk of contracting the new coronavirus if you’re outside China.

He says: “We can count the number of people who never had exposure to Hubei or China, who were infected by this virus, on one or two hands. So currently the risk of acquiring this infection outside of the epicenter of the epidemic is incredibly small. So if people are traveling [anywhere outside of China] your risk is close to zero percent.”

There have been reported cases of people infected by the coronavirus in countries outside China. Bogoch says it’s still important to keep perspective:

“To date, there’s something like 70 international cases. And again, we can still count the number of people who have acquired this infection without having been to China on one or two hands.”

What if you’re travelling and come close to someone infected with the virus?

Firstly, Bogoch cautions that it’s very unlikely you’ll come close to someone infected with the virus. But if you do, the risk goes up if you’re in close proximity with someone who has the respiratory disease:

“That means if someone is sitting next to an infected person — and usually within about two meters, so one or two rows up or behind. Within that radius, there’s clearly variables that would place certain people at greater risk — like closer proximity, or the longer the duration of exposure coupled with the degree of transmissibility the person has.”

Ultimately, given what we know about the disease, Bogoch suggests that if you’re outside China, there’s very little to worry about. He urges you to:

“Behave normally. Go about your daily life. Take the kids to school. Go to work. Hang out. Do what you’d normally do. I would not change any behavior if you’re outside the epidemic area.”

Although it’s important not to overreact to the possibility of becoming infected with the coronavirus, there are still three things you can do to protect yourself and others.

Here are 3 ways you can protect yourself, according to experts

Please, if you are someone who just came from a high-risk area (traveled from Wuhan or other parts of China) and find yourself exhibiting flu-like symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help immediately.

It should be everyone’s responsibility to stop the virus from spreading. Here are three effective things you can do right now:

1. Clean your hands regularly

According to the World Health Organization, the best way to reduce the risk of infection is by cleaning your hands regularly.

Wash your hands by “using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”

WHO suggests washing:

  • after coughing or sneezing
  • when caring for the sick
  • before, during, after you prepare food,
  • before eating
  • after toilet use
  • when hands are visibly dirty
  • after handling animals or animal waste

You can also protect yourself by wearing gloves or mittens any time you’re in public.If you need to touch another person, avoid touching your face or eyes after. Wash your hands again before you put your gloves on.

2. You can wear masks, but…

Masks can limit your chances of being exposed to the coronavirus. But it will not offer full protection.

According to Dr. David Carrington, of St George’s, University of London: “Routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air.”

In fact, he says that most viruses get around face masks because the eyes are still left exposed. Surgical masks are also worn too loose and have no air filter.

However, a surgical mask is still effective by protecting the virus from being “splashed” on your face when someone coughs or sneezes on you.

And remember: try not to use a mask more than once. It’s unhygienic. Also, the more you use a mask, the weaker its protection.

3. Clean your personal devices and commonly used surfaces

The WHO also advises you to regularly clean your cellphones, laptops, and other devices you often use. Additionally, in your house and workplace, try to keep commonly-used surfaces clean. In this case, cleaning should be your top priority.

4. Avoid these things:

  • Close contact with people, especially ones exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
  • Crowded public spaces. Viruses can be picked up from doorknobs or stairway banisters.
  • Traveling, especially if you are sick. If you must, make sure you wash your hands during travel and wear your masks inside public transportation vehicles.
  • Sharing food with people. If you have to, then avoid using your own personal utensils.s
  • Eating raw meat or handling live animals. Until scientists discover the virus’ animal source, avoid contact with live animals. Try not to eat raw meat dishes, even fish.

Finally, keep yourself informed. Make sure you watch the news closely to keep up-to-date with new developments or more precautionary methods.

Saying that, you also need to be more proactive in checking that you get information from reliable sources. Fake news or false information can only cause added panic.

Your safety and health are more important than anything. Try not to do anything that will jeopardize it.

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