WORDS PANK JIT SIN
The world is abuzz with news, and even more fake news on the new viral outbreak, which was first identified in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in December 2019. The city has 11 million people according to a 2018 census, in a land area of 8,494 km2.1 In comparison, Peninsular Malaysia has a total land area of 132,265 km2 and a population of 26 million. Comparing their population densities, Wuhan has approximately 1,295 persons per km2 while Peninsular Malaysia has 197 persons per km2.
From the figures, and from those of us who have travelled to various cities in China, we can attest that our population density is far less compared to major cities in the Middle Kingdom. What this means is that our population is less likely to face the same challenges and risks they face. Even so, it doesn’t mean we should be any less careful about contracting the disease.
Let’s go over the disease and the logic behind the advice we have been given so far.
What is it?
Well, the 2019-nCoV is a new virus which comes from the family called Coronaviridae (or simply coronaviruses). Corona is Latin for crown, alluding to the shape of the virus under an electron microscope. It is the same family of viruses that caused the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). However, coronaviruses are ubiquitous and not restricted to humans. It is found across the animal kingdom, with different types infecting camels, cats, bats, and birds.
How is it spread?
For now, it is believed the disease is spread through respiratory droplets. This happens when somehow droplets containing 2019-nCoV virus particles get into our body, either when we inhale, or through our eyes.2 This is the same way influenza and other respiratory diseases spread.
The two main methods of prevention include: proper hand hygiene and wearing a mask around places or situations where one may be exposed to the virus. Of course, avoiding the source of infection is the best method of prevention and that usually involves staying away from crowded places, and cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched eg, handrails, public seats, ticketing machines, and so on.
It was recently revealed that the infection can also be spread through the eyes. Thus, we should avoid touching our face with our hands unless they have been freshly cleaned with soap or alcohol-based hand rub/ sanitizer.
What are the symptoms?
Here is where things get a little confusing. Because it is a respiratory tract disease, the symptoms overlap with most common respiratory tract diseases. The main symptoms include fever, cough, myalgia (muscle aches) or fatigue; and shortness of breath (sometimes you hear people calling it dyspnoea, pronounced as dis-p-neah).
A recent study released by researchers in Wuhan who handled the first cases of the outbreak noted that the symptoms are not uniformly expressed by people suffering from the virus. The most common was fever, where almost everyone had it. This was followed by dry cough, which occurred in three quarters of the first cluster of patients. A little less than half the patients had fatigue or myalgia.3
From the looks of it, the virus shares common symptoms with influenza and various other viral diseases. The only way to be 100% certain is by doing a pecial blood test known as real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Real-time RT-PCR will tell us whether the virus particle is found in the patient’s blood.3
Proceed with caution
The disease is still new, and research is ongoing about the details of the virus. Right now, everything we know about 2019-nCoV comes from the study by researchers in Wuhan based on their observation of just 41 patients.
For now, a little common sense will go a long way to prevent the 2019-nCoV and other respiratory diseases from spreading—avoiding crowded places where possible; washing our hands frequently with soap; not touching our eyes, nose or mouth before we wash our hands with soap; and wearing a 3-ply surgical mask or N95 mask properly.
Should you or someone under your charge develop influenza-like symptoms, seek medical help at the nearest government hospital. Vietnam reported their first likely case of human-to-human on 22 January and is among the first outside of China to report such a transmission.4
Here is a video on how to properly wear the 3-ply surgical mask.
Protect yourself from fake news
There is no shortage of speculative or “breaking” news regarding the 2019-nCoV. All it takes is for us to sit back and think for a minute. Ask ourselves this question: “How is one person able to give a comprehensive view of the entire situation of the outbreak when he or she is also limited by lack of information and misinformation as every other average person on the streets?” The answer is he or she probably can’t give us the “true” scenario either.
As of now, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and China’s health authorities are still piecing the puzzle together. And they have the world’s health bodies reporting facts and figures to them, which in turn, allows them to come up with a more complete and realistic view of the situation.
Many websites, especially those peddling alarmist news and conspiracy theories, survive by people visiting them and clicking on links on those sites. They have nothing to lose by posting alarmist articles and fake news on their website. As more visitors come to their site, their income increases. For now, take everything you read about the 2019-nCoV with a big pinch of salt. Most importantly, do not forward social media messages and posts unless it has been verified because you can be prosecuted for spreading fake news.5
Update: A new study on 99 of the first cluster of patients to be diagnoses with the 2019-nCoV infection has just been released. The top three symptoms are now: fever, cough and shortness of breath.6
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1. Wuhan population 2020. Retrieved on 31 January from http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/wuhan-population/
2. CDC (US). How 2019-nCoV Spreads. Retrieved on 30 January from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html.
3. The Lancet. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Retrieved on 30 January from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30183-5/fulltext.
4. South China Morning Post. China Coronavirus: Vietnam flags likely human transmission case of father from Wuhan infecting son. Retrieved on 31 January from https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/economics/article/3048017/china-coronavirus-vietnam-flags-likely-human-transmission-case
5. The Star Online. Four arrested for spreading fake news on coronavirus. Retrieved on 30 January from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/01/29/four-arrested-for-spreading-fake-news-on-coronavirus.
6. Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study. Retreived on 31 January from https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(20)30211-7.pdf.