The novel coronavirus, also known by the names SARS-CoV-2 and 2019-nCoV causes the disease COVID-19. At the current time of writing, COVID-19 is classified as a very high risk in terms of spread and impact by the WHO. Those who have pre-existing medical conditions and older are more vulnerable to the respiratory coronavirus.
Should I be worried?
While around 80% of individuals develop mild symptoms such as fever, cough, muscle pain and generally feeling unwell, around 20% may develop more serious symptoms. These symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain and may require hospitalization. Approximately 2% of people with the disease have died.
For comparison, the fatality rate of flu is less than 0.1% in the US. The other coronaviruses that have passed from animals to humans, SARS and MERS have higher mortality rates at 10% and 34% respectively. Nevertheless globally COVID-19 cases are much higher than SARS and MERS combined and the death toll is greater than SARS and MERS combined.
It is also important to stress that some groups of individuals may be more susceptible, have more complications and worse outcomes. The fatality statistics below illustrate this:
- Age - Fatality rises from 0.5% in under 50s to 8% in those in their 70s and >15% in those older than 80. With age, our immune systems weaken.
- Heart Disease - 11% Fatality rate. Viral infections add stress to the body affecting blood pressure, heart rate and function. Heart attacks and strokes are more likely.
- Diabetes - 7% Fatality rate. Infections can lead to dysregulated blood glucose. During illness, the body reacts by releasing more glucose to provide cells with more energy to fight off the virus. Alternatively being sick can lead to a drop in blood glucose and both can be dangerous.
- Respiratory Diseases - 6% Fatality rate. Previous damage to the respiratory system can make you more prone to respiratory viruses and likely to have more serious symptoms.
- Other groups at risk will be health workers, those at animal markets, those who have recently traveled to outbreak regions and those who have come into close contact with individuals that have the virus.
In the US, there have been 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19. While this is cause for concern health authorities stress that if appropriate precautions are taken individuals should not worry. Exposure to influenza/flu viruses is more likely than coronavirus at present in the US. Our preventative tips below will also be effective against the spread of these viruses as well.
How you can stop the spread of Coronavirus
- Wash your hands regularly - This should be done with a good lather for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. In between, you can use alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizers.
- Cover mouth when you sneeze - You can use a tissue and dispose of it in a closed bin and then wash your hands.
- Avoid close contact - Avoid shaking hands, hugging and physical contact. Try to stay more than a meter away from others as respiratory droplets (main transmission method) can travel this distance.
- Avoid touching your face - Your hands touch many surfaces throughout the day and can pick up the virus from respiratory droplets settled on surfaces.
- Disinfect surfaces - keep surfaces clean to avoid the spread of the virus.
- If you feel ill seek appropriate medical care - Remember to give a full account of your illness and travel history.
- If you are looking after someone ill wear a mask - Use and dispose of a mask appropriately and practice regular hand hygiene.
- Handle food safely - Handle products especially meats carefully and completely cook food.
- Self-isolation - If you are coming from or have had contact with someone from an area with an outbreak, for example, it may be appropriate to self-isolate. The incubation period of the virus ranges from 1-14 days and is typically 5 days. During this period it may be possible to transmit the virus if you have it so it is sensible to take precautions.
Remember to refer to guidelines, as the situation is developing. You can find more information from the WHO or the CDC.
There are a number of factors that may put an individual at risk of coronavirus. However simple preventative steps can help to stop the virus spreading. We have addressed the majority here, but the bottom line is to pay attention to how you interact with your environment and to keep clean. Try to improve your lifestyle through changes in diet, exercise and avoid drugs to prevent the development of underlying diseases that will predispose you to risks from respiratory viruses.