Coronavirus: How worried should we be?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Laura Maisvoreva, a first-year medical student at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Tuesday 31 December, 2019. The start of what has now been declared by the World Health Organization a “global health emergency”.

A sixty one year old man in Wuhan, China visited a local hospital presenting with pneumonia. This seemingly common problem only lead to the unraveling of a more sinister illness that has taken the lives of 170 and infected more than 7000 others (data as at Friday 31 January 1300 hours). This virus has received much attention from its rapid spread to 18 other countries, with cases in France and the USA, according to the World Health Organization.  So, what is there to know about this new epidemic?

Coronavirus, named for its crown-like appearance, is part of a group of viruses that affects mammals and birds. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a member of this group. Interestingly, contrary to physiological understanding of viruses, this group of viruses is considered both living and non-living. Speculations that this new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCOV, arose by zoonosis from bats or snakes remain to be proven. Other theories suggest seafood in China may have been a main contributor to the spread of this virus.

Transmission involves inhalation of an infected person’s respiratory secretions or physical contact with infected individuals or surfaces. Dr Isaac Bogoch, an Infectious Diseases Specialist at the University Health Network claims “the ease of transmission is still unknown”. The most concerning thing about the coronavirus is its symptoms. Mimicking symptoms similar to a common cold can cause infection with the virus to be overlooked and mistaken for an influenza virus, especially in countries in the flu season. Early reports demonstrate that people sixty years and above have higher fatality rates and experience harsher symptoms, including pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure. This can be attributed to the fact that this age group is generally immunocompromised.

The only treatment available involves supportive care – fluids, rest and pain medication. Unfortunately, an antidote has not yet been made, neither has a vaccine been manufactured. Disease control measures have been taken in countries with suspected or confirmed cases, and involve isolation and close monitoring.

A simple, daily practice can assist in prevention of infection – washing hands. It is of utmost importance to practice good hygiene and not undermine any flu-like symptoms.

The coronavirus has certainly gone viral, but there is nothing to fear. The healthcare industry is fully aware of the manifestations of this virus and how quickly it is spreading. Control measures are being taken, and at an individual level, it is imperative to ensure any suspicious symptoms are reported to health officials.

About the author

Laura Maisvoreva is a first-year medical student at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. She is an active member of the Zimbabwe Medical Student’s Association (ZiMSA) and participates in the Standing Committee for Public Health (SCOPH). Her interests revolve around public health, as demonstrated by her completion of four Coursera courses that are medically related, namely, “Stanford Introduction to Food and Health”; “Understanding Obesity”; “Stories of Infection”; and” Epidemics- Dynamics of Infectious Diseases”. She is passionate about healthcare, and aspire to be a surgeon and an influencer of positive change in Zimbabwe.


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