What are Coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are the viruses that belong to family Coronaviridae. There are different types of Coronaviruses which are present in different animals including human. Human Coronaviruses are the viruses which usually infect human. These are common viruses of humans and are of the types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.
Everyone is infected with the human coronaviruses at least once in their life. The flu-like symptoms are seen in human Coronavirus infection. These include runny nose, cough, headache, sore throat and fever. These symptoms generally go away after a few days. These viruses do less harm to the human as they are not new to the human population.
Do all the types of Coronaviruses cause an outbreak?
When the cases are reported more than the usual frequency of occurrence, such a scenario forms an outbreak. Human Coronaviruses do not cause any outbreak as they are commonly seen. The outbreaks occur when Coronaviruses infect humans for the first time.
We have seen the outbreaks of Coronaviruses in the past. There was an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2002 and 2003. Similarly, of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012. These are the Coronaviruses of animals which unfortunately happen to infect the human. SARS-CoV was contracted from Civet cats in China and MERS-CoV from camels in Saudi Arabia.
What is Wuhan 2019-novel Coronavirus?
Wuhan 2019-novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a Coronavirus that was detected for the first time in humans in January 2019. A group of people having close connections to the seafood and animal market in Wuhan city of Hubei province, China were found to be with respiratory symptoms. Then an investigation began and so did the story of Wuhan 2019-novel Coronavirus. Later on, Medical Surveillance System found the infection was due to a completely new type of Coronavirus which was not detected previously.
Distribution of 2019-nCoV cases in Asia as of Feb 3, 2020
(Source: European CDC)
What symptoms are seen with this new Coronavirus infection?
The time period from the entry of the virus to the onset of symptoms is known as the incubation period. The incubation period of Coronavirus infection is between 2 to 14 days. The range of symptoms also varies from person to person. Some have mild symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. When the infection is severe, there can be pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death.
How fatal is the new Coronavirus?
The level of fatality of this new Coronavirus can be compared with Coronaviruses of the past with the help of the case fatality rate (CFR). The case fatality rate is the proportion of total infected individuals who die of a particular disease and is expressed in percentage (%). During 2002-2003, SARS-CoV claimed the lives of 774 among 8098 infected individuals, with a CFR of 9.6%. While in the case of MERS-CoV, it was 34.4% (858/2494). CFR stands at around 2.0% for Wuhan 2019-nCoV, which is lower than previous Coronaviruses.
Why should we worry about this new Coronavirus?
Although the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of the 2019-nCoV is lower than SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, the recent virus is spreading much faster than the previous ones. There were a total of 8098 cases of SARS in 2002-2003 and 2494 of MERS in 2012.
The current outbreak which started from the end of December 2019 has already infected more than 11,000 by the end of January 2020. Since humans do not have previous exposure to this virus, there is no existing immunity in the human population against this new virus.
How is this new Coronavirus spread?
The novel coronavirus is transmitted in the same way as other Coronaviruses and respiratory viruses (e.g. Influenza virus). When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the droplets containing the virus are released into the air. A healthy person gets infected after inhaling these droplets.
It is still not sure whether the droplets can remain infective on the surface or not. The infection can also be contracted through contact with an infected individual.
What are the preventive measures against this new Coronavirus?
The best way to control the spread is that suspected individuals should stay at home and avoid public places. They should visit a health facility when the symptoms are noticed. The hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are important for both self-protection and control of spread. The hands should be regularly washed with soap and water. The face should be covered while sneezing or coughing.
Although the demand for masks goes up during such outbreaks, most of the masks available in the market cannot prevent the droplets from entering through them. So, their reliability in control of transmission is still questionable. But the special types of masks made particularly for this purpose can be used. However, these masks can be a bit expensive than the usual ones.
It is equally important to avoid contact with someone with respiratory symptoms.
How can one distinguish Coronavirus infection from that of Influenza?
It is very difficult to differentiate between Coronavirus infection and Influenza virus infection (Seasonal flu) just on the basis of clinical signs. It is because the symptoms look similar in both the cases. To provide a confirmation of Coronavirus infection, molecular tests like PCR should be carried out. The rapid test kits are underway of the manufacturing process.
Is there any treatment against the infection?
There are currently no vaccines available to prevent the infection. Since this is a viral disease, there is no specific treatment available too. The symptomatic treatment is given to patients to get them rid of the symptoms. Most of the infected people get well with time while the conditions worsen in a few cases, leading even to death. The research is being conducted throughout the globe to come up with a vaccine against this virus. But the process can be time-taking as it requires intense laboratory works and clinical trials.