Coronavirus – should I be concerned?

If you are not in an area where coronavirus is spreading, or have not travelled from an area where coronavirus is spreading, or have not been in contact with an infected patient, your risk of infection is low.

Current status of the virus

Since the first detection of unusual pneumonia cases in the Chinese port city of Wuhan on 31 December 2019, and subsequent identification of the novel coronavirus as the cause, the virus has rapidly spread. As of 5 March 2020, the outbreak has been identified in 77 countries with 93,164 confirmed cases and 3,199 deaths. While the virus rapidly developed in China, new infections there are now declining. However, infections worldwide continue to rapidly increase in countries such as Italy, Iran and South Korea.

What exactly is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The current virus is now known as COVID-19.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. SARS was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS from dromedary camels to humans. The animal source of coronavirus is yet to be confirmed. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, a cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

What should I do?

Understandably, you may feel anxious about the outbreak. Get the facts from reliable sources to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. Seek guidance from your healthcare provider, your national public health authority, or your employer for accurate information on coronavirus and whether it is circulating where you live.

It is important to be informed of the situation and take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your family.

If you are in an area where there are cases of coronavirus you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice of national and local health authorities. For most people coronavirus infection will cause mild illness, however it can make some people very ill. In some people it can be fatal. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at risk for severe infection.

Be alert, but not alarmed

To quote a from a political slogan coined in 2003 as part of an Australian national public information security campaign – staying alert, but not alarmed, is probably the best way to manage the current coronavirus outbreak.

There are lots of myths circulating on social media about how to manage coronavirus. Don’t believe them. Use reputable sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health or the World Health Organisation to get information.