It first emerged in a live animal market only a few months ago in Wuhan, a city of around 10 million people in Central China. Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 and previously unknown to science, has killed at least 2,810 people, infected more than 82,550 and led to the lockdown of millions in central China in what experts warn looks increasingly like the world’s next pandemic. The World Health Organisation gave it another title: “public enemy number one”.
It appears to start with a fever, a cough or shortness of breath and can lead to pneumonia and more serious complications including organ failure. So far, the COVID-19 illness does not appear as deadly as SARS but it is already proving more contagious, capable of jumping person to person during its one-to-14-day incubation period, before symptoms appear.
It is believed each patient with COVID-19 will infect about four or more people. That makes it more infectious than the flu but much less infectious than measles, where one person is likely to infect up to 20 people.
The WHO estimates only about 20 per cent of the patients so far have suffered serious complications and the death rate is hovering at about 2 percent. Anyone can fall ill but, as with most respiratory illnesses, those most at risk of dying are the elderly and people with underlying conditions. Although young people have also died, very few children have so far been diagnosed or suffered serious cases – a phenomenon also observed during SARS.
“…for 95% of the population, this will be a mild cold”.Director of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Griffith University
People will catch it in the way they catch a cold, from close contact with infected people, animals or contaminated surfaces. Health authorities say the virus can jump within at least 15 minutes of face-to-face conversation, or at least two hours in an enclosed space with an infected person. If you are travelling near a confirmed patient on a plane, either in the same row or up to two in front or behind, health authorities say this is considered close contact and you should get advice and self-isolate.
It’s passed through bodily fluids, mostly airborne droplets from the nose and mouth expelled during coughing. The virus does not appear to be airborne but it is thought to survive outside the body on surfaces longer than initial estimates – the WHO now says “for a few hours or up to several days”.
The good news is it can be killed with even simple disinfectant, though companies like airlines are not leaving anything to chance, turning to some of the world’s hardest-hitting cleaners known to take down everything from herpes to the MRSA superbug.
It is still highly unlikely you could catch COVID-19 from passing someone on the street, eating Chinese food, patting an animal or receiving a package from an infected area like China. Our own Prime Minister has told the public that they can still go to the football and other large mass gatherings, to restaurants and do the shopping.
According to the federal government’s website, in Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have:
- recently been in mainland China or Iran; or
- been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of coronavirus.
Those with symptoms should also stay clear of others, seek medical treatment and wear face masks to stop the spread of the virus. Everyone is urged to wash their hands regularly and observe good “cough etiquette”, by covering the mouth, but face masks are not recommended unless you are sick or working with infected people.
Risk Intelligence recently updated the Risk Register for a community event coming up soon. After researching national and international websites, we suggest the following precautions, which are suitable for any human-to-human airborne virus:
- Ensure adequate opportunities, locations for persons to wash hands.
- Ensure adequate supply of alcohol based hand sanitiser.
- Maintain social distancing – at least one metre – from any person who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Encourage persons practice good respiratory hygiene – then dispose of the tissue immediately.
- If you feel unwell and / or have flu like symptoms, seek medical care early.
- Isolate any sick persons.
- For mass gatherings, it is recommended that consideration be given to increasing the capacity and capability of in-house medical resources, including facilities, quarantine areas and personnel.
With wise precautions, the threat of the virus can be contained and, as quoted by the director of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Griffith University, that “for 95% of the population, this will be a mild cold”.