Professor Clare Peddie, the Proctor of the University of St Andrews, has recently sent the students and faculty of the University advice regarding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The advice provided states that ‘if you arrived in the UK from China less than 14 days ago and become unwell with fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and sore throat, you should stay in your room, flat or home and avoid close personal contact with others.’
If individuals begin experiencing these symptoms they should “seek medical advice and tell [health care professionals] about your recent travel and your symptoms.” The recommended points of contact include the individual’s General Practitioner during the day, or NHS 24 on 111. The advice provided emphasises that individuals experiencing symptoms should not go to the doctor or hospital unless instructed to do so.
Professor Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews, referred to the coronavirus outbreak in her Start of Semester Message for January 2020, stating that “we are well prepared and will ensure you are kept informed promptly of any change to current guidance…if the current situation changes significantly, we will contact our students and staff by email with the latest information and advice.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” on 30 January 2020, following the first confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission of the virus outside of China (in the US and Thailand). The director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that “the main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries…our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”
The first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019. As of 31 January 2020, there have been 9,923 reported cases worldwide and 213 deaths (which all occurred in China). On Thursday it was announced by the Department of Health and Social Care that there are two confirmed cases of the virus in the north-west of England which are being treated by the NHS. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, stated in an interview with CNN that “the NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections…we have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately.”
At present, the WHO estimates that the reproductive number of the virus is between 1.4-2.5, meaning that on average, for every case of the novel coronavirus, 1-2 more will occur. For comparison, the reproductive rate of the common flu is 1.3, and for SARS it was 2.0. The coronavirus is therefore spreading faster than SARS, which affected 8,000 people over eight months, however the coronavirus currently has a much lower fatality rate (2-3%) compared to SARS (10%).
The symptoms of the virus can include a cough, fever, and shortness of breath,and there have been reported cases of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The majority of those infected have experienced recovery over short periods of time, however some people (especially the young and the elderly) are prone to developing a more serious infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Trevor Drew, a CSIRO virology expert stated in an interview to the ABC that “the disease in China seems to be falling into two different types. There’s the milder acute disease, and there seems to be a more severe lung infection that occurs a bit later on…we don’t know whether that is to do with new strains of the virus.”
Experts at Australia’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity announced their development of a lab-grown version of the virus on 29 January. According to the ABC, samples will be shared with the WHO in Europe, which will then be passed onto labs worldwide in an effort to accelerate the race to develop a vaccine. This research will help determine which vaccines will work and aid the production of tests to identify infected people before they show symptoms. Even with progress being made to meet a 16-week deadline for human vaccine trials, governments are advising their citizens against all travel to Hubei (Wuhan is the capital), and against all but essential travel to mainland China.
In addition, governments are urging recently returned travellers from China to follow strict protocols, similar to those recommended by the Proctor of the University. This advice, from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include measures such as: avoiding travel if sick, avoid contact with others, seek medical attention right away but first call ahead to a doctor’s office or emergency room and inform them of recent travel and symptoms, and wash hands often for at least twenty seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others.
Since the best way to prevent infection is to reduce exposure to the virus, the WHO recommends methods to reduce the transmission of a range of illnesses, including the novel coronavirus. These safe practices include:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough
- If you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider
- When visiting live markets in areas of currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals
- Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety.