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Prevention is cure

  • Published at 12:00 am January 26th, 2020
File Photo: Health officers screen arriving passengers from China with thermal scanners at Changi International airport in Singapore on January 22, 2020 AFP

How to best prepare for the Wuhan coronavirus

As per The Wall Street Journal, in less than a week, the official number of people infected with the Wuhan coronavirus rose from 300 to 1,287 -- with the death toll rising from 3 to 41 in China alone. Unofficially the numbers are believed to be much higher.

In a short period of time, the latest viral disease has caught the attention of the world. 

Twelve countries have already been affected with the virus, with the latest countries being France and Australia, adding a total of four continents as victims of the spread of this latest infection.

Some other countries include Singapore, Thailand, and Japan, which are popular tourist destinations for Bangladeshis. 

Therefore, knowing about the virus and taking appropriate measures for prevention is pivotal.

What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

It is a part of the virus group common in the animal kingdom, however if spread to humans, can cause fever and severe respiratory conditions (cough and shortness of breath), affecting the lungs and other major organs, which can be fatal. 

The virus belongs to the same group as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. We all know of the catastrophic outcomes that these two strains have brought in the last two decades, with their combined death toll being 1,554 according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The story of the Wuhan coronavirus started in an exotic seafood market located in the heart of Wuhan city in China, with snakes most likely being the original source of infection. Initially, the mode of infection was thought to have not been from human-to-human, therefore only that particular seafood market was closed as a preventive measure. 

Later, for obvious reasons, it was proven false as a growing amount of human-to-human spread was reported in mid-December 2019. Right after the first few cases were hospitalized, many of the affected patients were seen to have no history of direct contact with that seafood market.

With the fast-paced spread and severity of the virus, it is pertinent to know what we can do to keep our communities and ourselves safe from the infection.

Major airports in developed countries, such as the US and the UK, have already started screening travellers at airports, especially planes arriving with passengers from Wuhan and other regions of China.

Masks are being provided to passengers, temperatures and respiratory conditions are being checked and flagged, and travel out of Wuhan has been put to a halt. 

But since such measures are still in preliminary phases in Bangladesh, it is up to us to put into motion the practice of prevention.

The US National Institute of Health is working on a vaccine for the new virus, but the availability of it is not to be expected anytime soon, at least not for another year. Awareness is key, therefore it is crucial to know a few things we can do to protect ourselves:

The WHO along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised against any unnecessary travel to Wuhan or any other highly infected cities of China. Since Wuhan is “ground zero” for the new mysterious virus, travelling to that city is to be avoided unless absolutely necessary

Wash your hands thoroughly at regular intervals and teach your children to do the same.

Even if you are not at risk of the Wuhan virus, it is flu season now; therefore, proper hand washing will go a long way to prevent any such diseases

Avoid those who have recently travelled to the region and are showing similar symptoms as present in cases of the coronavirus

Take special care of immuno-compromised individuals at your household such as young children and the elderly, as they are the most susceptible to the infection

If you believe you are sick with the virus due to recent travel to affected areas or came in contact with anyone who has, then seek the attention of a health care worker immediately and let them know of your travel history

Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth or any surface before washing your hands, as the virus can stay alive up to 48 hours after presented on any cold surface

Lastly, if travelling to China, avoid live animal restaurants and markets, and contact with any potentially affected individuals there

During outbreaks as such, knowledge can be power. Know the virus, the symptoms it can cause, and how to prevent it. Since much is still unknown about the new strain of the coronavirus, do your own research and protect yourselves and your loved ones by informing them of the dos and don’ts.

Dr Tahia Faruk is a doctor writing from California.