Covid-19, Coronavirus to its friends, is on the rampage and is currently at the forefront of all our minds, if not our immune systems. It’s hard to know what the risks are, what precautions to take and what’s true and what isn’t. With the media in full ‘we’re all doomed’ mode, China apparently in lockdown and every sneeze on the tube accompanied by a gentle shuffling as commuters edge away, we’ve tried to make sense of what’s going on.
So what IS Coronavirus?
Corona viruses are a type of virus generally found in animals, but occasionally they make the jump to humans. Seven are known to have done so, most bringing cold-like symptoms, but two, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and our old acquaintance SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) have caused around 1,500 deaths between them since 2002.
And How Deadly Is It?
The latest outbreak, recently christened Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation, is less deadly than its cousins, with Covid-19 hitting a 2% fatality rate significantly below that of SARS (10%) and MERS (30%).
That’s not to say that it’s not bad, though. Over 20% of cases are considered ‘severe’ and it remains deadly.
And it comes from China?
Yes, more specifically Wuhan, and even more specifically the Huanan seafood wholesale market, located in the centre of Wuhamn city. The market sold live and recently slaughtered livestock and it’s thought that this is Covid-19 ground zero and that the virus somehow made the jump between species. SARS was linked to civet cats and MERS to camels, so it’s likely this was a similar leap.
And where’s it spread to?
So far it’s mainly stuck to Asia, with clusters forming around visitors to Wuhan, or those who’ve come into contact with them. So transport hubs Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Japan, have been particularly hit.
The UK, France, Germany and the US have all had a small number of outbreaks, with nine cases here, none of which has been fatal.
Is it still spreading?
The good news is that, according to the Chinese, the worst is over. President Xi Jinping got on the phone to Boris yesterday to say that crisis was under control, citing falling numbers of new infectees. That said, the overall death toll just passed 2,000.
So my chances of catching it are low?
Unless you’re planning any trips to Wuhan in the near future (and, let’s face it, had you even heard of Wuhan until now?), or the general region then yes, it’s incredibly low.
Phew. But, just in case, what are the symptoms?
The illness starts with coughs, and fever, leading to breathing difficulties which can cause pneumonia. In severe cases this can also be accompanied by kidney failure and, occasionally, death. Death seems to occur two to three weeks after diagnosis.
How long do symptoms take to occur?
It seems that the symptoms start to appear within two to ten days, though it can be as much as 24 days after contracting the virus.
And what’s the treatment?
Because it’s viral pneumonia, antibiotics don’t work and currently there are no antiviral drugs that are effective. The worst cases have normally affected those with existing health conditions, much like normal flu. Recovery seems to depend on how healthy your immune system is.
Is there a cure?
Good news: it may be possible to develop a vaccine to protect against Coronavirus. Bad news: it’ll take at least 12-18 months…
If I think I’ve got it what should I do?
Don’t go to A&E or a walk-in centre, you might spread it. The Chief Medical Officer is advising anyone who’s been to China, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last fortnight who develops a cough, fever or shortness of breath to remain indoors and call 111. Basically, don’t jump in an Uber or hop on a London bus (particularly, please don’t jump on the 44, it’s my daily commute).
You’ll be advised to ‘self quarantine’. This means staying at home, avoiding public transport, taxis etc, not going to work and getting friends and family to help deliver food and so supplies and don’t take visitors. Hardly rocket science…
Should I avoid China Town?
There are reports that London’s China Town has suffered as a result of Coronavirus. If anything we should all be heading to China Town in solidarity! Statistically you’re more likely to be knocked down by a Deliveroo driver on the way to China Town than catch Coronavirus. Go and support your fellow Londoners!