From the moment a 61-year-old man, who was infected with the coronavirus, and had reported to a hospital on December 27 but died later, on January 9, healthcare officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million people, went into overdrive. Then another elderly person, aged 89, also died. With the death toll from the newly discovered coronavirus infection have risen to 30 with more than 800 people infected in China, disquiet has grown around the world, especially after a number of coronavirus infection cases were recorded in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States on January 21, when the virus was diagnosed in a man in Washington State, who had recently returned from Wuhan, according to report by Live Science. With more cases of coronavirus infection being recorded beyond China, there is growing fear that the situation could rapidly get worse as business visitors travel out of China and hundreds of thousands of Chinese pour out of the cities, to return to their local communities to mark the Chinese New Year, a major and highly treasured event in the Chinese calendar, during which generations of families reunite.
Fully intent on containing and reducing the spread of the infection, the Chinese government put the city of Wuhan on lockdown from Thursday with all inward and outward bound flights as well as inter-city train and bus services cancelled.
“Basically, do not go to Wuhan. And those in Wuhan, please do not leave the city,” Li Bin, China’s National Health Commission vice-minister was quoted as saying in a BBC News report.
Of the first 17 deaths, 13 were men and four were women. The youngest victim was a 48-year-old woman. Many had underlying conditions like cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Most had gone to the hospital with a fever and a cough, though at least three had no fever when they were admitted.
Given that Wuhan coronavirus is relatively new, medical experts are still trying to learn more about it. So far, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems have been the primary victims of both the infection and death resulting from it. Young people and other ordinarily healthy people appear not have been affected.
“The majority of fatal cases are elderly and/or have a chronic disease that would increase their susceptibility to infectious diseases,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, an epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.
Yet, nobody is taking any chances given that the coronavirus had shown clear ability for human-to-human transmission after being able to jump from animals to human beings, just like the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus and the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus were both able to do and caused the death of many people in epidemic fashion.
Health authorities around the world have sounded the alarm bell advising their citizens to be wary of going to China at this time. But what should be more worrisome to Nigeria is the return of Chinese citizens resident in the country and other Nigerian businessmen who travelled out for business transactions in China.
Just as other countries have initiated screening of airline passengers arriving at international airports, the Nigerian government announced the commencement of containment measures, which include screening passengers for fever with special whole-body heat sensors. Evidently, Nigeria is returning to the days when Port Health officials would point hand-held digital thermometers at people arriving at the airports or even departing, to measure the body temperature, as was done in the heat of the Ebola virus epidemic that also hit Nigeria, when a Liberian diplomat working for the United Nations “imported” the infection into the country. But for the bold and courgeous step taken by Dr. Stella Adadevoh, a great, calamitous Ebola epidemic would have befallen Nigeria. Yet the infection, which was effectively contained by the commendable efforts of the Federal and Lagos State governments, claimed the lives of a number of doctors and nurses of First Foundation Medical Centre, where Sawyerr was admitted.
What you need to know about coronavirus
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common among animals and cause respiratory illness. In rare cases, they are what scientists call zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans. This family includes the viruses that cause SARS and MERS as well as those that cause milder illnesses, like the common cold. Right now, the severity of this new virus, known as 2019-nCoV, is somewhat unclear. It is believed to have started in animals, but somehow got transmitted into humans and then mutated into a strain with ability to pass from human-to-human. The source of the outbreak is still unknown, but preliminary evidence from a genetic analysis of the virus suggested that it likely resided in snakes before jumping to humans, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Virology. The new Chinese coronavirus was first decoded by Leo Poon, a virologist at the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong.
The viruses can make people sick, usually with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Coronavirus symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, possibly a headache and maybe a fever, which can last for a couple of days.
For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young, there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis. There are a handful of human coronaviruses that are known to be deadly. For instance, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as the MERS virus, was first reported in that region in 2012, and the symptoms were much more severe. Three to four out of every 10 patients infected with MERS died, according to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the other hand, SARS, another coronavirus that can cause more severe symptoms, was first identified in the Guangdong province in southern China, where it caused respiratory problems, diarrhea, fatigue, shortness of breath, respiratory distress and kidney failure. Depending on the patient’s age, the death rate with SARS ranged from 0-50 per cent of the cases, with older people being the most vulnerable.
The Wuhan coronavirus which also causes respiratory problems starts off a mild cough accompanied by fever and shortness of breath with the situation of the patient getting worse if he/she has underlying health conditions.
How coronaviruses spread
Viruses can spread from human contact with animals. Scientists think MERS started in camels. With SARS, scientists suspected civet cats were to blame. Wuhan coronavirus is suspected to have come from snakes. Human-to-human transmission of the viruses happens when someone comes into contact with an infected person’s secretions, such as droplets in a cough or when the person sneezes into the air. With harmattan being experienced in Nigeria and several people having cold, catarrh and sneezing into the air, there is genuine reason to be concerned. Who knows who may have returned from China recently?
Depending on how virulent the virus is, person could become exposed to it through an infected person coughing or sneezing into the air. Exposure can be from handshake too. The virus can also be transmitted by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Caregivers can sometimes be exposed by handling a patient’s waste.
Who is affected?
MERS, SARS and the Wuhan coronavirus appear to cause more severe disease in older people, though uncertainty remains around the latest outbreak. Of the cases of Wuhan coronavirus reported so far, none are yet confirmed to be among children. The average age is people 40 or over, he said.
There is no specific treatment, but research is underway. Most of the time, symptoms will go away on their own and experts advise seeking care early. If symptoms feel worse than a standard cold, see your doctor. Doctors can relieve symptoms by prescribing a pain or fever medication. The CDC says a room humidifier or a hot shower can help with a sore throat or cough. Drink plenty of fluids, get rest and sleep as much as possible.
How it can be prevented
There is no vaccine to protect against this family of viruses, at least not yet. The US National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine against the new virus, but it will be months until clinical trials get underway and more than a year until it might become available.
You may be able to reduce your risk of infection by avoiding people who are sick. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds.
Awareness is very important. If you are sick and have reason to believe it may be the Wuhan coronavirus due to travel to the region or coming into contact with someone who has been there, you should let a health care provider know and seek treatment early. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.
• Adapted from agency reports and Live Science