The thing about viruses and microscopic organisms is that there is almost no way to defend yourself against them.
You could quite seriously be walking down the street, someone three feet away from you coughs and if it lands on you, you are going to get sick with whatever they have if you are sick as well.
That’s the scary thing about this virus, they almost have no idea what is going on or how to defend against it.
However, you can start to prepare yourself by knowing what to look for and to make sure that you don’t have it.
At the end of 2019, health authorities in China alerted the world to a potentially new virus that had caused pneumonia in a handful of people in Wuhan since mid-December. The number of cases has since exploded, with more than 600 cases confirmed as of 23 January. The virus has been confirmed to be a new coronavirus, in the same family as SARS and MERS.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are common, and typically cause mild respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. Some are more dangerous. SARS, which infected more than 8000 people, was responsible for 774 deaths during an outbreak that began in 2003. MERS, which was first identified in 2012, is even more deadly – around 34 per cent of people infected with the virus die.
What are the symptoms of the new virus?
People who have been diagnosed with the virus tend to have a fever and cough, and some have difficulty breathing. The symptoms appear to set in at some point between two days and two weeks after the person has been exposed to the virus, according to health authorities.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Health authorities in China have sequenced the genome of the virus and have shared this information, allowing groups around the world to be able to test for the virus. There are no specific antiviral treatments for the infection, so those with the virus are treated for their symptoms.
Where did the virus come from?
The World Health Organization told journalists this week that the agency is still working to pin down the source of the virus. But many of the first confirmed cases were in people who had visited a food market in Wuhan. The market, which sells live farmed and wild animals, has since been closed and disinfected.
A recent genetic analysis suggests that the virus resembles viruses that infect bats and snakes. Researchers believe that it may have resulted from separate viruses in bats and snakes recombining. This could have happened in the wild, but may also have occurred in the market, where the animals have been kept in close proximity to each other.
How did the virus spread to humans?
The same genetic analysis suggests that the virus may have developed the ability to jump from snakes to people thanks to a mutation in a gene for a protein. If the virus was secreted in the animals’ faeces, this could have become aerosolised and breathed in, some researchers speculate.