Coronavirus: Should You Be Afraid of a New Epidemic

On the last day of 2019, the World Health Organization received information that in the Chinese city of Wuhan, several people fell ill with pneumonia caused by unknown causes. It soon became clear that the cause of the disease was a new virus. WHO is involved at three levels at once: country, region and headquarters.   

On January 22, a statement by the WHO Director General was published , which, in fact, did not clarify anything: half of the text is thanks to the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Health of China, in the second half it says that there is not enough information yet. “I am extremely serious about making decisions about whether or not to declare a public health threat at the international level, and I will be able to make such a statement when all the evidence is considered … Tomorrow we can say a lot more.”   

Meanwhile, the number of cases exceeded five hundred, including one in the United States; at least seventeen people died. With a mild course of the disease, its manifestations resemble a cold – a high fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, headache. In severe cases, pneumonia develops. There is no specific therapy against the virus, so the goal of treatment is to prevent complications and support the body by helping it cope with the virus. Given the novelty of the virus, WHO recommends hospitalizing the sick, but admits that sometimes this is not possible – and then a person can stay at home, taking certain measures. In fact, the sick person should be isolated as much as possible from contact with others, placed in a ventilated room, and hygiene for everyone who is at home should be strengthened.         

Chinese authorities have closed entry and exit from three cities in China. Wuhan alone has a population of 11 million; 30 thousand people fly out of it every day, and even more leave by ground transport. Quarantine is a logical measure that helps contain the spread of the infection beyond the epicenter, especially given that the Chinese New Year is approaching, when the country has the most travel. Representatives of the WHO, although they did not advise the Chinese authorities to block traffic, supported the decision.   

Travel agencies are now canceling tickets and hotels without penalizing tourists; some of those planning to travel to the closed cities say that the trip is not worth the risk and it will be safer to stay at home. People who live in the same city of Wuhan and cannot leave it found themselves in the most unpleasant situation ; they hide from infection at home as much as possible and feel fear and a feeling that no one has thought about them.     

The new virus was named 2019-nCoV – that is, literally, “the new 2019 coronavirus.” Coronaviruses are so named because of their appearance – under a microscope, they resemble a crown. These are RNA viruses with a relatively large (larger than other RNA viruses) genome; this means that they have a better chance of adapting, mutating and surviving in every possible way. Coronaviruses are insidious – they were the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003, from which more than nine hundred people died. Another virus from this family is the cause of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which affected about 2.5 thousand people; in one third of them, the disease was fatal.      

Coronaviruses are unpredictable: although many of them are relatively harmless and do not cause anything more serious than SARS, viruses from this family can change their properties, becoming dangerous. At some point, a virus that usually infects animals is suddenly transmitted to humans: for example, the first infection with the causative agent of SARS came from a civet, an animal from the genus of viverrids (this is the very mammal from whose excrement the most expensive coffee beans in the world, kopi-luvak) … Middle East respiratory syndrome is most commonly contracted from camels; there are coronaviruses that cause disease in pigs, bats and cats. Problems begin when a virus becomes capable of infecting a person; the situation becomes even more serious when it begins to be transmitted from one person to another. Perhaps 2019-nCov came to humans from snakes; it is also known that most of the first group of patients worked in the wholesale food market or visited it. 

Nevertheless, so far experts argue that the new virus, apparently, is not as dangerous as the causative agent of SARS, and the quarantine of Chinese cities is a preventive measure, when it is better to avoid, than not to miss. Apparently, the virus is transmitted from person to person, but rather limited; American CDCs call the risk to the US population low . In Russia, the situation was taken seriously: at the Vnukovo and Pulkovo airports , planes arriving from China and Thailand are inspected , measuring the body temperature of passengers and crew with thermal imagers. In St. Petersburg, two patients with ARVI symptoms who recently arrived from China were hospitalized for additional examination – as a result, they were excluded from coronavirus infection .        

Rospotrebnadzor has published recommendations for those traveling to China: do not go to food markets, zoos and other places where there are animals; do not eat raw food and drink water only from bottles; wear a mask and wash your hands more often; seek medical help on time, not self-medicate, and tell about the trip when visiting a doctor in Russia. The Ministry of Health sent letters to polyclinics about the new virus – it says that doctors should be vigilant about a new infection and be ready to quickly diagnose it. Laboratory kits for diagnostics are also ready .      

Apparently, there is no reason to panic if you are outside the epicenter yet. It remains to observe the usual preventive measures – wash your hands, sneeze and cough in napkins – and keep your finger on the pulse. A new WHO statement is due out today. 

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