Coronavirus: Don't panic, say SA experts

2020-02-01 06:42
Prof Wolfgang Preiser, head of the University of Stellenbosch's medical faculty's division for medical virology. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Prof Wolfgang Preiser, head of the University of Stellenbosch's medical faculty's division for medical virology. (Jan Gerber, News24) (Jan Gerber)

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Don't panic, and get a flu shot.

This is the advice of Professor Wolfgang Preiser, head of Stellenbosch University's medical faculty's division for medical virology, after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a global emergency.

By Friday morning, at least 213 people had died in China and almost 10 000 cases of the virus had been reported.

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The faculty held an information session on the coronavirus presented by Preiser, Dr Jantjie Taljaard (Adult Infectious Diseases) and Dr Nokwazi Nkosi (Medical Virology).

Preiser said there was no need for South Africans to panic. He said South Africa's preparedness measures to recognise the virus, are as good as anywhere else in the world.

However, if the outbreak is not contained, South Africa could see cases later, like the rest of the world.

Preiser said by May or June, South Africa's influenza season will start. The coronavirus' symptoms present the same as influenza.

"My advice is to get a flu shot," he said.

While lowering the risk of contracting influenza, this will also avoid possible confusion with the coronavirus.

History of the coronavirus

According to a fact sheet provided by the faculty, in early December 2019 cases of pneumonia started occurring in the city of Wuhan, China, which were not caused by any known virus.

By the end of the month, Chinese authorities confirmed an outbreak and that they had closed down a seafood and wildlife market suspected to be linked to it.

A week later, the discovery of a previously unknown virus was announced – a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, SARS and MERS. The new virus was temporarily named "2019-nCoV" and is often referred to as the novel coronavirus.

"Any new virus is a concern as health care providers have very limited knowledge of how it affects people or how best to manage it," read the fact sheet.

Initially, many patients in Wuhan reportedly had links to the animal market, suggesting that the virus was transmitted by animals.

However, a growing number of patients were not exposed to animals, indicating person-to-person spread was occurring.

Healthcare-associated transmission has also been reported.

Since then, the disease has been detected in most parts of China and several countries around the globe, usually affecting travellers from areas with documented cases of 2019-nCoV, or people who came into contact with such travellers.

How it spreads

New research about the novel coronavirus is still emerging, but it is now thought that person-to-person infection occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes – similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. What are the signs and symptoms?

Patients with 2019-nCoV mainly presented with the following symptoms:

- Fever;

- Cough; and

- Shortness of breath.

Taljaard said a patient with a respiratory illness of any severity who has travelled to China within 14 days of the onset of the illness will be treated as a possible case of the coronavirus.

"The infection can present as a fairly mild respiratory illness, but in severe cases may lead to pneumonia and even death. Elderly people and those with underlying illness seem to have a higher risk of severe illness and death. It is unknown whether asymptomatic infections occur," read the fact sheet.

Advice to the public

The risk of infection with the novel coronavirus in South Africa is currently very low.

Possible suspected cases, as defined by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), are tested and placed in precautionary isolation.

"If you feel ill and have been to China in the past few weeks or have had contact with someone who was there, please seek medical attention urgently, stating clearly your exposure and symptoms," read the fact sheet.

Common hygiene practices can minimise your risk of infection or spreading the disease to others:

- Frequently wash your hands using alcohol-based hand sanitisers or soap and water;

- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing;

- Stay at home if you have a fever or cough; and

- If possible, reconsider travel plans to areas that have been affected by the outbreak.

Read more on:    coronavirus  |  healthcare
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