At the end of December 2019 a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) began in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China. The virus has since spread and has infected more than 9 320 people globally and killed 212. This virus belongs to the same family as the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. It causes a respiratory illness and can spread from person to person, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has since officially declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern.
No confirmed cases in South Africa or neighbouring countries
According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), no cases of the virus have been reported yet in South Africa or neighbouring countries. A case of 2019-nCoV is however under investigation in Zambia. It has also been reported that two students travelling back from China have been placed under quarantine in the Ivory Coast and Kenya.
A rumour of a confirmed case at Life Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria has since been debunked, with the hospital confirming that none of its patients have been diagnosed with the virus. “As standard procedure and as per the NICD and WHO guidelines, patients who have travelled to the affected area recently are tested for this virus. Should a suspected case be confirmed, the hospital will follow all the procedures as required by the NICD as well as Life Healthcare’s infection prevention protocols,” said Adriaan Jordaan, hospital manager of Life Eugene Marais Hospital.
The NICD has assured South Africans that the country is prepared for any 2019-nCoV outbreak. There are systems in place to rapidly detect, identify and respond to any reported case that may reach South Africa’s borders, said Prof. Cheryl Cohen of the NICD. The Health Minister, Dr Zhweli Mkhize, also said that officials are working closely with the NICD to monitor South Africa’s airports and other points of entry, with screening processes for those returning from China due to be intensified.
How it spreads
The human coronavirus most commonly spreads from an infected person to others through the air, either by –
- coughing and sneezing,
- close personal contact, or
- touching an object or surface containing the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
The incubation period of 2019-nCoV is thought to be within two to 14 days following exposure.
The illness is characterised primarily by fever, cough, shortness of breath and a general feeling of being unwell. Although many of the reported infections are not severe, approximately 20% of confirmed patients have experienced critical illness, including respiratory failure, septic shock, or other organ failure requiring intensive care. Most of the fatal cases have occurred in people with underlying medical conditions.
Diagnosing the virus
In a statement released by Lancet Laboratories, only nucleic acid amplification tests (also known as NAATs) have so far been used to help diagnose the new coronavirus infection. These tests identify small amounts of DNA or RNA in test samples and can, therefore, be used to identify disease-causing viruses even when the material is present in very small amounts.
Treating the virus
There are no specific treatments for 2019-nCoV infection, and managing the condition involves bedrest and medication to relieve symptoms.
Since there is currently no vaccine against 2019-nCoV, preventing infection is important. The World Health Organization recommends regular hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and discarding the tissue used, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing, is also important.
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