What is a Coronavirus? Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Prevention

What is a Coronavirus? Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Prevention
This virus has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. This means that even if you are infected, you may not exhibit any symptoms. But you are still a carrier. @Shutterstock

The Chinese coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate and has already claimed almost 200 people and infected around 8000 more. Know more about this disease.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : January 31, 2020 10:42 AM IST

The mysterious coronavirus that originated in China's Wuhan province is spreading at an alarming rate. Though it is too early to make a prediction, yet, going by current reports, it looks all set to morph into a global pandemic. It has already spread to all major Chinese cities. Cases have also popped up around the world in more than 15 countries including in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan to name a few. In India, after many false scares, the first confirmed case comes from the southern state of Kerala. At the latest count, the number of infected people have jumped to almost 8,000 and the virus has left more than 170 dead. And, the number are rising fast very day.

Hence, it is important that you know exactly what you are facing here.

What exactly is a coronavirus?

This is a group of viruses that mainly infect animals. Transmission is mainly from animals to human. However, the Chinese coronavirus has mutated and can now spread from human to human. Earlier, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) spread at an alarming rate and killed more than 1,500 people. However, the Wuhan coronavirus, also known as the 2019-nCoV, is more dangerous.

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What are the signs and symptoms of this coronavirus?

Typical symptoms of the Chinese coronavirus are similar to respiratory diseases. An infected person will exhibit fever, cough, breathing difficulties and pneumonia. Fatigue is also common.

How is this coronavirus diagnosed?

This virus has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. This means that even if you are infected, you may not exhibit any symptoms. But you are still a carrier. This is what is so frightening as it makes the virus more difficult to control. One suspected case in India is a man who had travelled to China a month ago. He is currently in isolation at a hospital after complaining of flu-like symptoms.

So, if you have been to China in the recent past or been in contact with someone who has been to that country, be alert to symptoms. Report to a hospital immediately if you notice anything amiss, self-quarantine yourself and call the helpline set up by the government. If you go to a hospital, you may unwittingly spread the virus to other around you.

What kills this coronavirus?

There is no cure or a vaccine for this coronavirus. Doctors will treat the symptoms. But antibiotics will not work because the infection is not bacterial. If a patient progresses to pneumonia, he will most likely be put on life support. This is because viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics. Supportive care is the best course of action till the patient recovers. However, experts across the world are working against time to find a cure and develop a vaccine.

High risk groups

Though this virus infects people of all ages, the elderly and young children are particularly susceptible. People over the age of 65 and children under the age of two must be careful. It is particularly dangerous for people who ae already suffering from an underlying health condition and have a weak immune system.

Containment efforts across the world

Almost all the major airports around the world have started strict screening protocols. People returning from China are being checked for symptoms. In some airports, authorities are distributing hand sanitisers to passengers. But this effort may prove to be fruitless because of the virus's long incubation period. The only way out is to educate people, spread awareness and hope that infected people report to the authorities.

Indian government's initiative

According to a report in the medical journal The Lancet, India is one of the top 30 countries who are at a high risk of this infection. Bangkok heads the list. Acknowledging the seriousness of the present situation, the Indian government has started a 24X7 helpline number that you can call for any queries. If you are a patient or a relative of a patient or even if you know somebody who may pose a risk, call 011-23978046. An Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) Officer will guide you.

Many airports have received guidelines and strict vigil is also being maintained at seaports in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry against suspected coronavirus-infected ship crew.

The government has also made an appeal to people to come forward and report to the authorities if they have travelled to China recently. The call centre will direct people to experts in their respective areas. It will also monitor details of all passengers in the list provided by the Ministry of External Affairs.

Preventive measures

Practice hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and avoid crowded places. These are simple yet effective guidelines that can save you from infection. Use hand sanitisers and don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands. Wear a mask if you use public transport and avoid public washrooms and restaurants