What is the coronavirus and should I be worried?

As of Jan. 28, the coronavirus outbreak in China has infected approximately 4,500 people and killed 106. The disease causes pneumonia-like symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing and is reportedly transmitted through human contact.

This particular coronavirus is believed to have originated in a seafood market in the city of Wuhan in China. Recent research points to bats and snakes as the animal source of the outbreak. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people, and the current strain, named 2019-nCoV, has not previously been seen in humans.

Since the outbreak in December, the infection has spread quickly. Two people in China died and 40 cases of infection were identified within the first month, and two weeks later the death toll rose to 41 with over 1,287 cases of infection. This is similar in cause and effect to the SARS outbreak in 2002, which killed 700 people and infected about 8,000 across 27 countries. Like SARS, the coronavirus presents identifiable symptoms that help scientists and healthcare practitioners know what they’re dealing with.

Although the coronavirus has spread from China to many Asian countries, Australia, the U.S. and two confirmed cases in Canada, the World Health Organization has not yet declared a global health crisis. On Jan. 25, health officials in Ontario announced that a potential case of coronavirus had been discovered in Toronto. The patient, who had recently travelled to Wuhan, is in stable condition.

There is currently no vaccine, although several research groups around the globe have begun working towards one. China has sequenced the DNA of the culprit coronavirus, and Swiss non-profit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has granted $12.5 million in funding. Vaccines for viral infections can take years to develop, but CEPI has set a goal of 16 weeks to reach the clinical testing phase of the vaccine.

In order to reduce your exposure to and chance of transmitting illnesses such as coronaviruses, you can take precautions such as washing your hands often, avoiding contact with people who are sick and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow. If you experience symptoms that feel worse than a standard cold, be sure to see a health-care practitioner, drink plenty of fluids, get as much sleep as possible and have a hot shower to help with sore throat or cough. For more information, you can visit ontario.ca/coronavirus.

If you have any questions or concerns, or want to let me know what you want to see in next week’s edition of Talking Wellness, feel free to email me at healthintern@mta.ca. You can book an appointment with our registered nurse or physician at the Wellness Centre by emailing wellness@mta.ca. Have a happy and healthy week!

Rachel McDougall
Rachel McDougall is a contributor to the Argosy.