UPDATED 10 Feb 2020 – With more than 40,000 cases reported and 1,013 deaths as of Feb 10th 2020, the new coronavirus has made Wuhan province in China the attention of everyone in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the virus as a global health emergency, and has caused worries and anxiety right here in Malaysia. But what is coronavirus? How does it spread? And most importantly, how can we protect ourselves from it? Here’s what we know so far.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a term for a family of viruses. These viruses are responsible for the common cold but also for more lethal illnesses such as SARS or MERS. The virus that is causing the spread of infection in Wuhan is a new type of coronavirus that has not been seen before! It has no official name but WHO has temporarily named this virus “2019-nCoV”.
Where did it come from?
Many news sources have pinpointed the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market to be where the virus spread to humans, but the original animal carrier has yet to be determined. While many speculations have said exotic meats such as bats or snakes were the original source, no official statement has been made and nothing has been confirmed. What we do know is that the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market was considered unhygienic and had many illegal, wildlife was sold such as foxes, snakes, hedgehogs and rats.
How does it spread?
Coronaviruses originate from an animal host and are quite common in animals such as bats. However, there is the chance of these viruses infecting and causing severe diseases such as SARS in humans. Person-to-person spread has already been confirmed for 2019-nCoV, which puts all of us at risk. If an infected person sneezes or coughs, the respiratory or nasal fluids that escape their body can infect a healthy person. The virus can also spread through cross contamination. An easy example would be a sick person who sneezed into his hands and touched a door handle. A healthy person who touches the same door handle would then have a high risk of cross contamination if they touch their face, eyes, nose, mouth or other parts of their body.
What can I do to protect myself?
First and foremost is good hand hygiene habits. Always wash your hands before and after meals, before and after going to the toilet and after touching anything dirty or unsanitary, the list goes on. So if you’re someone who doesn’t wash your hands regularly, now would be a good time to start.
But that’s not all. Washing your hands with just water isn’t enough. A proper hand washing consists of three very simple steps.
1) Washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds
2) Drying your hands using paper towels or hand dryers
3) Using hand sanitiser after drying your hands.
While it may sound simple, these steps are often the first things we should do when facing any viral outbreak. In fact, before Wuhan reared its ugly head, Malaysians were battling influenza A! While both global news coverage has been focusing on coronavirus, influenza A is taking the opportunity to sneakily infect more and more people. Furthermore, getting your hands on hand sanitiser is currently quite difficult as stocks are low. These three steps will help to protect you not just from 2019-nCoV, but also from other diseases such as influenza A.
Avoid Public Areas
If you’re thinking of spending your next weekend at the mall or going to a cafe, maybe think twice. Save that hangout with your friends for another date or maybe just have a small gathering at home. As the virus can easily spread from human to human, it would be best to avoid going to places with large crowds. Furthermore, if you touch surfaces such as door handles, ATMs, lift buttons, etc, do sanitise your hands regularly.
“But Owen, I take public transport to work and my office has easily 50-100 people all in one small space. I can’t avoid public areas!”. Well if public areas are unavoidable, the best thing to do is to wear a mask. They might be a little uncomfortable but the matter of fact is they work! There have been many debates on which way to wear a mask, but according to Medical Mythbusters Malaysia, an NGO that helps to give accurate information on medical matters, you should always wear your mask with the coloured (blue) side facing outwards. It doesn’t matter if you’re healthy or sick, if you want to keep germs away then keep the blue side facing out.
This new virus is not a laughing matter and should be taken seriously. Taking preventive measures is your best bet to lower the risk of contracting coronavirus. While face masks and hand sanitiser are a bit hard to come by, washing your hands frequently can go a long way. There is still much to learn about the virus and how it spreads, so in the meantime it’s important to take extra precaution to ensure you aren’t infected.