DocQ: Pandemic anyone? The latest on coronavirus


coronavirus docq pandemic

There’s a new virus causing widespread fear around the world.  Coronavirus causes an illness known as COVID-19. DocQ explains the danger from the potential pandemic and what you should do. 

Coronavirus vs SARS and MERS

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses, so-called because the viral particle looks like it has a crown or halo.  SARS and MERS are the most notable past coronaviruses.  SARS in 2003 became a pandemic (an epidemic of worldwide proportions) and caused 8,000 infections, with a mortality rate of 10%.   MERS in 2012, with 2,500 identified cases had a mortality rate of nearly 30%.

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The new COVID-19 coronavirus currently causing panic and quarantine measures around the world originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan.  According to the currently popular but so far unproven theory, transmission occurs from infected bats.  At the time of writing, there are new infections popping up all over the world, and the official number of cases is 78,987 in 29 countries, with 2,470 deaths, which is a mortality rate of 3%.  Those hardest hit are the elderly, infants, and people with other chronic medical conditions.

Why is COVID-19 so concerning?  The incubation period is of major concern — the time from infection until symptoms begin to show. Initially, researchers thought the incubation period lasted about 14 days, but more recent cases suggest a timeframe as long as 27 days. That means someone can be infected and contagious for nearly 4 weeks without having a single sniffle.

It also appears to be highly contagious – the virus has slipped into prisons and cruise ships and spread like wildfire.  This makes it very difficult to maintain adequate quarantine measures, and it’s likely the virus is already well on the way to becoming pandemic across the globe.  It’s also likely there are thousands more cases than so far detected.

There’s no vaccine (although one is in development) and no cure.  Only time will tell how deadly this virus will be. The mortality rate of 3% doesn’t sound nearly as bad as SARS, but it’s way more contagious. Therefore, the actual numbers could eventually be very high.  All we can do in the meantime is rely on our public health authorities to take the necessary steps to protect our population, which may mean travel restrictions and quarantine.  Spread is through droplets and surfaces, so we are talking close contact such as shaking hands, touching doorknobs etc.  So walking around with a mask will not help. However, washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face is a good idea.

DocQ says get your flu shot

In the meantime, for some perspective, you’re much more likely to die from the flu!  Influenza season is in full swing in the northern hemisphere, and set to arrive down under next autumn.  So far it has killed over 16,000 people in the US since late 2019.  The new flu shots won’t be available here until March. But I can tell you, I will show up for my own jab, the moment those shots hit the shelves!

Read more from DocQ, Dr Fiona Bisshop.

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