Health

All the Information Known About COVID-19 Thus Far

The Mystery Illness This new virus can make individuals sick, generally with a moderate to mild respiratory tract illness like a common cold. The symptoms of… Trista - January 31, 2020
Not everyone is aware of what a coronavirus is, but they are dangerous. Shutterstock.

The Mystery Illness

This new virus can make individuals sick, generally with a moderate to mild respiratory tract illness like a common cold. The symptoms of coronavirus include cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, and headache, which can last for several days. These symptoms are similar to other viruses. In the case where a person has a weakened immune system or is very young or old, there is a chance that this virus may cause a lower but very severe respiratory tract illness, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. 

 

MERS was reported for the first time in 2012, in the Middle East, and causes respiratory problems as well. The symptoms for MERS are more severe, and the virus is fatal in one-third of cases. On the other hand, SARS can also cause very severe symptoms. It was first identified in Southern China’s Guangdong province. The disease causes diarrhea, shortness of breath, kidney failure, and fatigue along with respiratory distress. Older people are more vulnerable to die from SARS, and its dead rate ranges from 0-50% depending on a person’s age. MERS and SARS can be critical for pregnant women. There have been cases of stillbirth in pregnant women infected with MERS, while SARS has resulted in maternal deaths, critical illnesses, and spontaneous abortions.

One of the most noticeable symptoms of the virus is a sore throat. Shutterstock.

Symptoms of the Illness

This new virus can make individuals sick, generally with a moderate to mild respiratory tract illness like a common cold. The symptoms of coronavirus include cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, and headache, which can last for several days. These symptoms are similar to other viruses. In the case where a person has a weakened immune system or is very young or old, there is a chance that this virus may cause a lower but very severe respiratory tract illness, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. 

 

MERS was reported for the first time in 2012, in the Middle East, and causes respiratory problems as well. The symptoms for MERS are more severe, and the virus is fatal in one-third of cases. On the other hand, SARS can also cause very severe symptoms. It was first identified in Southern China’s Guangdong province. The disease causes diarrhea, shortness of breath, kidney failure, and fatigue along with respiratory distress. Older people are more vulnerable to die from SARS, and its dead rate ranges from 0-50% depending on a person’s age. MERS and SARS can be critical for pregnant women. There have been cases of stillbirth in pregnant women infected with MERS, while SARS has resulted in maternal deaths, critical illnesses, and spontaneous abortions.

This latest epidemic could inspire a world-wide panic. Shutterstock.

How Severe Is This Respiratory Illness?

Each day, coronavirus becomes more serious. The virus has taken the lives of more than 200 people and has infected over 8,000 people. The virus is hazardous as it can spread through human contact. More than 15 medical workers were found to be infected with the disease. If the right measures are not taken all over the world, this disease can turn into an epidemic. Since there is no specific treatment for this virus, then prevention is the only solution. 

 

This notion is why the health chief of Hong Kong, Sophia Chan, said that respiratory illness with unknown causes would be added to the official list of diseases, which medical practitioners need to report to Hong Kong’s government. She said that this new disease would be noted in the reportable infectious diseases’ list in the Prevention & Control of Disease Ordinance in Hong Kong. This regulation will help the government in taking stronger measures against the spreading of specific diseases like chickenpox and tuberculosis. Actions under this ordinance may involve limiting the movement of those people who are suspected of having infections or enforcing quarantines.

SARS is another coronavirus that had a severe impact on the world’s health back in 2003. Shutterstock.

How Is It Compared to SARS?

As compared to SARS that spread in China in 2002 and 2003, this mysterious virus is considered as less lethal and less virulent. SARS claimed almost 800 lives back them as well as infected approximately 8000 people and hit the Asian cities like Beijing, Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Because China did not reveal the presence of a deadly disease early, it spread rapidly.

 

This time, however, China did not conceal this information, and proper monitoring and screening can help prevent this mysterious disease spread widely and taking the lives of hundreds of people. But because the coronavirus started rapidly spreading while tourists traveling to China for Lunar New Year celebrations, the full impact of the disease has not yet been deciphered. 

Wuhan is the city where SARS originated. Shutterstock.

Coronavirus Cases 

Initially, the virus was limited to Wuhan in the Hubei province of China. However, soon the disease was spread to other cities. Fourteen cases were reported in Guangdong (one of the southern regions), five were reported in Beijing, two in Shanghai, two in Tianjin City, and five in Zhejiang (an eastern province in China).

 

A sixty-one-year-old man died from the mysterious virus on January 9. A few days later, on the 15th and 18th of January, two more patients died. On the 20th, another patient died of this disease. He was an eighty-nine-year-old man who was admitted to hospital following serious breathing difficulties. The other deaths were announced on Tuesday.

 

The first cases of the virus spreading to international borders are of a woman who was traveling back to Thailand from Wuhan. Some days later, an individual in Japan was diagnosed with the disease after they stayed in Wuhan in the first half of January. Cases are now being reported outside Asia, with several people in the United States, Europe, and Canada being infected with the coronavirus.

There were many fatalities resulting from the SARS virus. Shutterstock.

More Fatalities 

A few cases were reported in South Korea, Japan, and Thailand. Taiwan confirmed the first case on January 27, 2020, of a 55-year-old woman who had come back from Wuhan the night before. The World Health Organization is anticipating the virus to spread even more, both in China and Hong Kong, as well as other countries of the world. Recently, the U.S. authorities have confirmed their first case of this virus, and there have been reports regarding possible infections in Australia.

 

According to U.K. researchers, however, the real number is almost 1700, and the infection cases have been underestimated. They concluded this after the spread of this virus to other countries and cities within a short time. The researchers explained that the international airport of Wuhan serves 19 million people, but just 3,400 of them travel internationally. It raises the question that if the disease is not widely spread in Wuhan, how can it go to other countries? Therefore, the actual number of infected patients could be a lot more than what we anticipate.

Visitors should stay away from living animal markets to prevent getting sick. Shutterstock.

Precautions for Travelers 

It’s highly unlikely that travelers would be allowed to enter China at this stage, but that may change in the future. If you are traveling to China, Hong Kong, or any part of the world, some precautionary steps must be taken to prevent you from getting infected with this mysterious virus or any other illness while traveling. If you notice weird symptoms, seek professional help immediately. 

 

During your trip to Wuhan, other parts of China, or Hong Kong, you should make sure to avoid surfaces with droppings or secretions of any animals. Not only that, but avoid contact with dead animals, such as pigs, wild birds, ducks, and chickens. Avoid visiting high-risk areas like live animal markets, farms, and areas with slaughterhouses. Avoid contact with any person who has had symptoms of the flu or cold. Wash your hands multiple times during the day, and do not touch your face, eyes, and lips without sanitizing your hand. Also, be sure to wear a surgical mask when in contact with other people.

The virus is pretty resilient and can survive for up to 96 hours outside of the body. Shutterstock.

How Long Can the Virus Live?

Nasty viruses like coronaviruses may last on objects for days. MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) lasts 168 hours on the material from the back pocket of an airplane’s seat. Ecoli (Escherichia coli O157: H7) can survive for 96 hours on an airplane’s armrest. To remain profitable and competitive, airlines have boosted their turnaround times in recent years. Several budget airlines have decreased the time to 25 minutes by merely eliminating the seat pockets. It leaves very little time for cleaning, and deep cleaning is mostly avoided. This notion may aid in the spreading of this virus. 

 

After flying, the majority of people travel through public transportation. Now you may avoid touching the stainless steel rods on buses and subways, but you cannot avoid touching ticket machines and turnstiles. Since almost everyone feels them, you may contract the disease. So, sanitizing your hands and using disinfectant wipes is extremely necessary.  

Poultry is banned to minimize the spread of the disease. Shutterstock.

Precautions Taken In China and Other Countries

China has put Wuhan under tight supervision. The sale of poultry is banned, as it is believed that the virus is spread from animals. Even poultry and wild animals are not allowed in Wuhan. The local government canceled all public activities during the Lunar New Year holiday, even the annual prayer-offering at Wuhan’s Guiyang Temple, which brought in 700,000 tourists in 2019. 

 

The mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, urged the residents as well as tourists to stay in the city to avoid the spreading of the disease. He has also requested people not to visit the city until necessary. In Wuhan’s airport and train station, fever scanners have been installed. Even the drivers are checked for fever at highway checkpoints. Because the illness is being considered as the class A disease, the authorities are allowed to quarantine patients as well as put impacted areas on lockdown.

Airports are improving their ventilation symptoms to combat the disease. Shutterstock.

What About Traveling for the Holidays?

However, authorities are worried that the Lunar New Year celebrations, which run until February 8, 2020, may increase the number of tourists significantly, exacerbating the crisis. China has prevented further spread by adding temperature checks, more screening of patients that may be infected, more protection to the health workers, and minimizing large crowds from gathering in one place. The authorities will also disinfect and improve ventilation at train stations, shopping centers, and airports.

 

A confirmed case has been registered in Macau as well. The large city attracts mainland tourists because it is the only Chinese place that allows gambling. The casino staff has been directed by the authorities to wear face masks. Chinese citizens have been asked to wear masks as well.

The NIH has already started working on vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus further. Shutterstock.

Precautions Taken Other Areas of the World 

Taiwan has requested its citizens not to visit the affected Chinese areas until necessary. North Korea, on the other hand, has banned international tourists from entering its borders temporarily. North Korea is closed for most of the world but allows Chinese tourists to travel in the country. Several airports in the U.S., Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong have started screening Chinese passengers to avoid the outbreak of this virus in these countries. Additionally, in Hong Kong, temperature checkpoints have been installed for inbound travelers.

Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong airline, said it would let the cabin crew wear masks on the mainland flights. Meanwhile, in Australia, a man who recently returned from the city of Wuhan showed symptoms of the disease. This man has been quarantined until the symptoms are resolved. Quarantines are also happening on military bases around the world because of the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) in the United States has already started working on the vaccine for this newfound virus. However, it will take several months until clinical trials and probably more than one year to launch the vaccine. Scientists in New York, China, and Texas are also working on the vaccine. 

The first discovery of SARS was in Hanoi, Vietnam. Shutterstock.

SARS 

SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome is a viral infection from coronavirus resulting in respiratory illnesses. First recognized in 2003 at the end of February, SARS took the lives of almost 800 people and infected nearly 8000 people in 37 countries with most of the cases in Hong Kong and China. So, it has a 9.6% fatality rate.

 

The virus was identified for the first time in late February 2003 by an Italian doctor who was treating an American patient in Hanoi. The doctors thought that it was just a bad case of the flu. However, the Italian doctor realized that it was more than just flu and probably a new and highly contagious disease. The doctor then notified WHO and persuaded the Vietnamese government to isolate the patients and screen the travelers. As a result, the disease was controlled to some extent. In April 2003, Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and CDC identified the SARS genome.

SARS can be spread through human contact, or through contact with infected animals. Shutterstock.

How Is SARS Spread?

SARS is zoonotic, implying that it can be transmitted to humans from animals. The infected person experiences flu-like symptoms like muscle pain, lethargy, fever, sore throat, cough, mild fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Any kind of human contact can spread the disease, including sneezing or coughing, touching someone directly, eating with the same utensils, speaking to someone who is standing fewer than three feet away. The virus can be spread by coming in contact with doorbells, telephones, door handles, and other objects with the virus on them, which remains active in its surroundings for several days.

One of the symptoms of SARS is a high fever. Shutterstock.

Symptoms of SARS

SARS symptoms usually appear within three to five days after a person is exposed to the SARS virus but may develop after two to seven days. Before the symptoms appear and during the time of the incubation period, SARS is not contagious. 

 

Most of the SARS cases begin with a high fever. Some more early symptoms are similar to those of flu, including aches, dry coughing, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and chills. These symptoms develop over one week. Some patients may even develop pneumonia as well as severe complications like heart failure, liver failure, and respiratory failure. However, these complications are more common in people over 60 years, and those who have hepatitis and diabetes.

Get a diagnosis quickly, especially if you are experiencing shortness of breath. Shutterstock.

Diagnosis for SARS

SARS is extremely rare, with no confirmed cases since 2004. It shares symptoms with pneumonia and the flu. Because of this, a doctor will not suspect its presence until the person has been to an area that has the outbreak. The World Health Organization advises that to be diagnosed with this disease, an individual should have a fever of a minimum temperature of 100.4F/38C along with more than one or two symptoms of the lower respiratory tract illness, such as difficulty breathing, cough, and shortness of breath. They should have no other diagnosis to explain the sickness completely along with radiographic proof to show the diagnosis of pneumonia. 

Blood tests can be done to determine if you’re affected or not. Shutterstock.

More Blood Tests

Laboratory tests can identify SARS-CoV. RT- PCR is a type of testing that can detect the presence of the virus in nasal secretions, stool, and blood. Serologic testing can also detect SARS by detecting SARS-CoV antibodies in the blood. If a patient has these antibodies, they may have SARS as well. The doctor may also employ a viral culture, which involves keeping a little amount of fluid or tiny body tissue in a container that has some cells. If the virus develops, the cells will change.

 

However, all of these tests may not be reliable in the early stage of the infection. The majority of the patients who had SARS in 2003-4 had spent time with the people who had the disease or visited the places where SARS virus was present, such as an area affected by this disease or working in labs that have live SARS-CoV.  

Quarantine and isolation are the best ways to prevent the spread of the illness. Shutterstock.

Prevention of SARS

SARS does not have any particular vaccine. That means that quarantine and isolation are the most effective ways to prevent it from spreading. Other preventive means include the disinfecting of surfaces and washing your hands frequently. People should be wearing surgical masks, incorporating simple hygiene measures, and avoiding contact with bodily fluids. Isolating the patient to prevent transmission of the virus is crucial. Make sure you wash any items like clothing, bedding, dishes, and so on, that a patient has touched with hot and soapy water. Finally, avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth with unclean hands.

You can take steps to avoid becoming part of the problem by wearing a proper breathing mask. Shutterstock.

The Outbreak

The SARS epidemic most likely began in a Chinese province, Guangdong, in November 2002. The patient was taken to the hospital and treated but did not survive. The hospital could not make any diagnosis for the cause of death. The Chinese government then took specific actions to control it but did not inform the World Health Organization until February 2003. Due to the lack of openness, the disease turned out to be an epidemic.

 

Before the World Health Organization could take any action, the world witnessed 2000 cases and 500 deaths. The epidemic came to the spotlight when an American traveling from China became afflicted with symptoms of pneumonia while on his flight to Singapore, which was stopped in Vietnam. The patient was treated there but died and transmitted SARS to a lot of medical staff in that hospital. It raised concern all over the world, and in March 2003, a global alert was issued by the WHO followed a warning by the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control). However, SARS spread across Ottawa, Toronto, San Francisco, Manila, Singapore, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Soon, the virus affected a total of 8,274 people and killed 775 in the world.

MERS is a virus that originated in the Middle East. Shutterstock.

MERS 

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS is one of the viral illnesses caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and is also called the camel flu. The symptoms of MERS can be mild to severe. The total cases of MERS infection have been 1342, out of which, 513 died. So, out of every three people who suffer from MERS, there is one fatality.

It was spread through contact with infected camels. Shutterstock.

How Is It Spread?

MERS is also a zoonotic virus. As per the studies, humans have been infected with MERS through indirect and direct contact with the infected dromedary camels. The presence of this virus has been recognized in camels in various countries in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. How the virus originated remains a mystery. However, as per the analysis of multiple virus genomes, the disease may have originated in bats and somehow transmitted to camels, which are immune to MERS-CoV.

One of the symptoms of MERS is diarrhea, so stay hydrated. Shutterstock.

Symptoms of MERS 

The symptoms of MERS infection range from mild respiratory symptoms to severe respiratory diseases, which may cause death. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, diarrhea, and fever. Pneumonia is likely to be present, but its presence is not necessary for the infection to take hold. Severe illness may lead to respiratory failure, which requires support in an ICU (intensive care unit) and mechanical ventilation. The virus seems to induce severe diseases in older people, individuals with weak immunity, and people with chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, renal disease, and chronic lung disease. 

 

MERS is a severe disease as its fatality rate is 35%, meaning one out of three people with MERS will not survive. However, mild cases of this infection may not be noted by available medical testing. Until more is discovered about MERS, the fatality rate is counted only by the lab-confirmed circumstances.

The transmission of the disease was localized because there were low transmission rates between humans. Shutterstock.

Transmission of MERS

It is not fully understood how the disease can be transmitted from camels to humans. However, dromedary camels remain an animal source of the infection in humans. The strains of this virus that are identical to the human strains have been taken from dromedaries in different countries, including Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.Unless there is close contact, MERS-CoV does not transfer from one person to another, such as offering unprotected care to the infected patient. So, there has been a spread of cases in the healthcare facilities in the absence of adequate and appropriate control practices. The human transmission of MERS-CoV has been limited to family members, health care workers, and patients.

 

Since 2012, 26 nations have reports MERS cases including Yemen, the U.S.A., the U.K., United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Tunisia, Thailand, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Philippines, Oman, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Italy, Islamic Republic of Iran, Greece, Germany, France, Egypt, Bahrain, Austria, and Algeria. However, 80% of MERS cases have been registered by Saudi Arabia. Cases reported outside of the Middle East are generally traveling individuals who were infected by MERS-CoV in the Middle East and then went to other countries. 

Samples are taken from the respiratory tract to determine the presence of the virus. Shutterstock.

Diagnosis of MERS

The diagnosis of MERS includes the doctor examining the patient and asking about any symptoms they may be having. The doctor will ask about recent activities, especially travel. Then, samples from the respiratory tract (RT) of the patient will be taken for assessment. RT-PCR testing (Polymerase Chain Reaction Testing) can affirm the presence of the virus. If the test is not positive even after 28 days after the onset of symptoms, the doctor rules out the possibility of MERS. A blood test can determine whether or not a person has been infected previously and is identified by MERS antibodies present in the blood.

Washing your hands after you’ve been outside can minimize your chances of becoming sick. Shutterstock.

Prevention of MERS

The mechanism of spreading MERS is currently unknown. So, the only way to prevent it is to isolate it. Because of that, it is imperative to wash your hands frequently. Do not touch your face with unclean hands and avoid undercooked meat. Minimize close contact with those who are showing symptoms, such as fever, with acute respiratory illness. You can wear medical masks and isolate yourself from people who may have the disease.

 

Washing the items that a patient uses with soap and hot water is vital. Seek immediate medical help if you experience fever and respiratory illness within two weeks of your return from travel. Avoid direct contact with raw camel milk, urine, and meat. Practice proper hygiene if you visit farms, barns, markets, or places where dromedary camels are present. 

You have to take an active role in protecting your health. Shutterstock.

The Bottom Line About the Respiratory Illness in Hong Kong

Even though we have come a long way in terms of medicine, there is a lot to be discovered. This new virus, 2019-nCoV, as well as other coronaviruses, proves that we do not have answers to everything. The medicine for the mysterious coronavirus will be developed in a year or more than them even after such technological advancements. To prevent the outbreak, it is necessary to isolate patients completely and conduct strict screenings at airports, bus stations, railway stations, and other public places. 

 

Additionally, while handling the cases of this mysterious coronavirus, medical professionals need to take proper care to prevent them from spreading. So far, the coronavirus that was recently identified in China has taken over 200 lives and infected close to 8,500 people, with the numbers steadily increasing. Apart from affecting the lives of people in China and Hong Kong, the economies of these countries will also be impacted. As the coronavirus spreads, more countries around the world will see cases begin to arise. 

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