On 31 December 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. By 7th January, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the causative virus by Chinese authorities. Since then till date, it has been confirmed that the Wuhan coronavirus has killed 17 people and sickened more than 500, mostly in China but also in other countries such as Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
Aetiology – Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). With striking ties and similarities, the new Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) causes similar symptoms to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV and people infected with these coronaviruses suffer a severe inflammatory response.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. For example, detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. In fact, several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Now, for the newly discovered 2019-nCoV that has now triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness in China, it has been postulated that snakes may be the original source of transmission. The host snakes indicated include the Chinese krait (Bungarus multicinctus) and the Chinese cobra. These snakes are a highly venomous species of elapid snake found in much of central and southern China and Southeast Asia.
Signs of Infection
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.
Treatment and Prevention
Unfortunately, there is neither an approved antiviral drug for treatment nor an approved vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus infection. Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Also, people have been advised to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
WHO does not currently recommend any restriction of travel or trade; nevertheless countries are encouraged to continue strengthening their preparedness for health emergencies. This includes following an interim guidance for all countries on how they can prepare for this virus, monitor for sick people, test samples, treat patients, control infection in health centers, maintain the right supplies, and communicate with the public about this new virus.
By Dr. Kikiope Oluwarore-Isedowo