For the past few weeks, the talk of the town has been the Novel coronavirus, also known as the Wuhan virus.
On December 31, reports emerged that there was an outbreak of a mysterious illness in the Wuhan province in China. Only later was the virus causing the illness identified as coronavirus.
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to declare the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, it is expected to reconvene to decide on the matter in the near future.
So far, the virus has taken the lives of 26 people in China and infected hundreds of others. It has also spread to our neighbouring countries Singapore and Thailand, as well as Japan and South Korea.
With traveling between countries being such a common occurrence, there is a fear of the rapid spread of the virus.
What exactly is this virus that has gotten so many governments, especially the Chinese government so riled up and how dangerous is it?
Wuhan Novel Coronavirus
The term Coronavirus is used to identify a group of viruses that causes respiratory issues among humans.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are caused by different strands of the virus as well.
Earlier reports mentioned that the Novel Coronavirus strand was not as strong as SARS or MERS, but this may change.
In people with a weakened immune system, the virus can cause pneumonia, and eventually death.
It is believed that the virus spread from bats to snakes and eventually to humans who consumed the infected snakes.
In China, the authories had identified the source of the virus to the
Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
The market sells wild animals including snakes, baby koalas, wolf cubs, porcupines and other animals, most of us won’t even dream of consuming, especially considering extinction and all.
The market has been closed since the beginning of this year.
Symptoms to look out for
What’s scary about the illness caused by Novel Coronavirus is that it can be similar to a regular cold, cough and fever combo.
If you have been spending a lot of time in crowded places, especially airports and other areas with tourists from China, travelled to the country recently or have been exposed in any other way to the virus, these are the symptoms you should keep a lookout for:
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat and cough
- Runny nose
- Breathing difficulties
According to WHO, the virus could even cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death (which has been happening) in severe cases.
Should you be worried?
Despite a scare yesterday (January 23) when four people who arrived in Kota Kinabalu Airport were suspected of having contracted the virus, Malaysia is still safe from it, so the simple answer is, not yet.
China has stopped all its public transportation, including trains and flights, in Wuhan and forbidden its citizens from leaving the area without valid reasons.
Closer to home, the government is taking several steps to ensure the virus does not spread here, including conducting screenings at all entry points to the country.
Health Minister Dr Dzulkifly Ahmad, yesterday, tweeted the measures taken by his ministry.
What to do if you have the symptoms
If you or people close to you have not been exposed to the virus in any way, you can take it easy and do the usual resting at home and taking medications recommended by your doctors.
Even if you’re not sick, use a mask when you leave your homes, wash your hands with soap regularly, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, make sure the food you’re consuming is cooked, and avoid close contact with sick people.
If you’ve been to China or other countries with the virus outbreak, you might want to take extra precautions and seek professional advice. Otherwise, you should be good.
Stay alert, but there's no need to panic
While the illnesses caused by Novel Coronavirus sounds scary and seems to be spreading rapidly, there is no reason to panic.
Just practice good hygiene, use masks when you go out and avoid travelling to China anytime soon.
Sources: CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Star, The Guardian, WHO