What Is Coronavirus? Do You Need to Worry?

A new strain of the virus has spread across China and it has reached three other Asian countries

V. Kumara Swamy Updated: Jan 21, 2020 13:18:46 IST
What Is Coronavirus? Do You Need to Worry? An enlarged 3-D image of the MERS coronavirus (Image used for representative purposes only. Photo: Mascud Zamani via Wikimedia Commons)

The coronavirus (CoV) that is spreading panic across China and the world causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

The reason for panic in China is that the new strain of virus has been designated as a 'novel coronavirus’ as it has not been previously identified in humans. Chinese authorities have said that the strain of coronavirus is transmitted from person to person.

What makes it dangerous is that currently there is no specific treatment for the disease caused by this strain of coronavirus. But the symptoms can be treated based on the patient’s clinical condition.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), common signs of infection include respiratory illness, fever, cough and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and even death. More than 200 cases have been reported across China and four people have died so far.

The WHO is of the opinion that coronaviruses are ‘zoonotic,’ or that they are transmitted between animals and people. In the past, WHO has claimed that SARS-CoV in 2002 was transmitted from civet cats to humans, and MERS-CoV was spread from dromedary camels to humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012. There is no vaccine either to tackle the virus and it may take "a number of years" for a new vaccine to be developed, according to the WHO.

This new strain of coronavirus in China is supposed to have originated from Wuhan City in the Hubei Province in central China in December last year. The reason for panic across the world is that this strain of this virus is similar to the one that causes SARS, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. South Korea, Thailand and Japan have confirmed cases of coronavirus infection recently. All the people who were detected with this virus had come from China. On 10 January, WHO came out with guidance for all the countries on how they can prepare for this virus and how to treat the humans infected with the virus.

The WHO has not given any travel advisory for people travelling to China, but some standard steps (like being extra careful when you are visiting the affected provinces in China) include regular handwashing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

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