China is currently facing an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus, the stories are making headlines around the world with videos from medical facilities resembling science fiction movies. So what exactly is a coronavirus? Read on and we’ll help you understand.

Coronaviruses consist of a large family of viruses, some of these can infect humans and others infect animals. Generally speaking, human coronaviruses are known to cause mild illness. In rare cases however, animal coronaviruses can mutate and evolve allowing them to infect humans. In such cases, they can be more severe and deadly. Most recent notable cases of severe coronavirus illness are the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. New cases of coronavirus that have not previously been identified to infect humans are referred to as “Novel Coronavirus”.

Where did the new Coronavirus emerge?

The 2019-nCoV is the latest coronavirus identified to infect humans. This new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan City, in China. Many of the early reports of infection can be traced back to those frequenting or working in the live seafood and animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It is believed that the new 2019-nCoV strain emerged from a single animal origin before spreading to humans. Travel activity to and from Wuhan is thought to have contributed to the virus being spread to other areas in China and international locations around the world.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. As the infection progresses, it causes pneumonia and organ failure in severe cases. Severity of the infection and symptoms often depends on the affected person’s overall health and their immune system’s ability to ward off the virus. It has been observed that very young patients, really old patients and those in a poor state of health have succumbed to the illness.

What treatments are available?

Being a viral illness, antibiotics are pretty much useless to fight the coronavirus infection. During treatment, patients are kept isolated as coughing and sneezing can easily spread the virus. Treatment includes supportive care, remedies to reduce fever, fluid replacement and assisted ventilation for those with difficulty breathing. China has almost completed building a new hospital in the city of Wuhan, the city thought to be the epicentre of the outbreak. The Huoshenshan Hospital has been constructed to deal with those infected by the coronavirus as the city of Wuhan is in a state of lockdown and residents cannot leave. The 1000 bed facility will be open on Monday however it will not accept walk in patients but rather those that are transferred from other healthcare facilities. Constructing a brand new hospital in just 10 days is no easy feat and thousands of workers have toiled round the clock to get things done. Elsewhere around the world, hospitals and clinics have briefed their staff on the new virus and developed response and contigency plans to deal with the outbreak.

How can the virus be prevented?

Basic hygeine measures are most important, these include:

  • Washing hands frequently especially after contact with sick people or their surroundings
  • Avoiding contact with those suffering acute respiratory infections
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it into a rubbish bin
  • Using hand sanitiser and wearing a surgical mask may help prevent transmission and spread of the virus but experts warn that the P2 or N95 masks that offer higher protection can make breathing more difficult for some people and may actually cause harm if used incorrectly.

At this stage there is no specific cure or vaccine for the coronavirus 2019-nCoV but scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine. Even with the latest technology in vaccine development, it could take 6 months or more to develop a working vaccine and carry out clinical trials for safety and efficacy before it is rolled out to the public.

Coronavirus cases in countries around the World

CountryConfirmed cases
The Philipines2
South Korea15
Sri Lanka1
United Arab Emirates5
United Kingdom2
United States11
These figures were at the time of writing this article

What to do if you think you may be infected

If you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone suspected to have the coronavirus infection, seek medical advice urgently. The virus has a latent/incubation phase of about 14 days so symptoms may not develop straight away. Contact your nearest healthcare facility for more information. Below are some links you may refer to: