What is it?
Coronaviruses are common and infect humans and animals all the time. They cause respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, fever, fatigue and a sore throat. The particular strain causing infection now is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China and is a new, or novel, strain.
How does it spread?
It spreads when droplets are inhaled through coughing or sneezing and the virus can survive for a short time on surfaces. This particular coronavirus seems to be able to spread fairly quickly. This may be because once infected, individuals can take over a week before symptoms show and so they continue to mix with others.
The coronavirus is most likely spread from person to person through direct close contact with a person while they are infectious, contact with droplets when a person with a confirmed infection coughs or sneezes, and touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that has droplets from a cough or sneeze by an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.
When to seek help:
If you are a traveler from China or have been in close contact with one and you develop a fever, sore throat, runny nose, aches or fatigue, you should seek medical advice. For mild symptoms take simple medicines to lower fever and treat minor pain such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen etc. A decongestant can also help. Self-isolate and call the medical service near you or your national non-emergency number for advice and particularly if your symptoms worsen or are severe.
Am I at risk?
Cases are doubling every 5 days and at the time of writing, the situation is evolving. Thankfully, most cases are mild and some people don’t even feel particularly ill. Most people fully recover as they would from a “flu”. The fatality rate is very low overall. Very old people, very young children and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at more risk.
The fatality rate is about 2% according to the statistics available, based on known cases. It is likely that there are many more unknown cases and the real rate is likely to be well under 1%. If you are a healthy adult it is very likely that you would recover easily if infected over a period of a week or so, similar to having a mild flu like illness or a moderate cold.
To put this infection into context, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died. That did not make the news.
What can I do to help?
If you have been to mainland China and develop symptoms you should self-isolate or stay confined and inform the local medical services. Likewise, if someone you know has been there and has symptoms, if you have spent more than 15 minutes in close proximity to them you may be at risk. Good hand hygiene is important for all. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth.
Regular hand washing, use of a hand sanitizer and proper disposal of tissues are important. Wearing a mask will not fully protect you.
Should I travel?
Always follow the official advice of your own country’s health care system and the country you wish to travel to. For the time being, avoid travel to mainland China. It is currently safe to travel to all other countries at the time of writing. It is expected that the outbreak will lessen within a few months and the risk will then fall significantly.
For more information:
TAKE HOME MESSAGES
A MASK WILL NOT FULLY PROTECT YOU
WASH YOUR HANDS REGULARLY
DISPOSE OF TISSUES PROPERLY
SELF ISOLATE AND SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS AND HAVE TRAVELLED FROM A HIGH RISK AREA OR BEEN IN CLOSE ASSOCIATION WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS
The situation is constantly evolving and will be monitored by the CMI and further updates may be issued
The FIM Medical Commission