The death toll related to the Wuhan virus is now at 17, with more than 500 cases coming about in China and rising. Because of this, the World Health Organisation will be deciding today if the outbreak needs to be considered a global health emergency. While it has yet to reach Singapore’s shores, Dr. Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said that it is only a matter of time.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan virus?

Some of the symptoms seen in people who have contracted the Wuhan virus are similar to those of the common cold or pneumonia. These symptoms include fever, headaches, a sore throat, chills, and having difficulty breathing.

Wuhan virus symptoms. Image provided by Shutterstock.

Where did the Wuhan virus start?

The coronavirus seems to have originated at Huanan meat and seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, China, where raw meat, wildlife parts, and live animals are sold side by side. The live animals sold at the market include dogs, peacocks, camels, koalas, and otters. Some photos on social media have also suggested that live wolf pups and civet cats, which are both eaten in China, are also being sold there.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are basically a big group of viruses common among animals. In some cases, they are zoonotic and will “jump” from animals to humans. The mysterious new Wuhan coronavirus has already infected almost 600 people, including 15 members of the core medical team in Wuhan, and spread to South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Thailand.

In 2002 and 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) killed more than 700 people and infected more than 8,000 people. In Singapore, there were 238 reported cases, including 33 deaths. At the time, the Chinese authorities had downplayed the dangers and kept media coverage so private that people didn’t realise how serious the virus was until it became widespread. Fortunately, after case detection, quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing; the chain of transmission was broken.

In 2012, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), was first reported with four out of 10 infected people dying at the time. Although there were 62 suspected cases of MERS in Singapore, they all tested negative for the virus in the end.

Like the Wuhan virus, SARS and MERS were of zoonotic origin. MERS was believed to start with camels, while SARS had been linked with civet cats in the past. After making the jump from animal to human, these viruses mutated and were then transmitted from human to human.

With human-to-human transmission, a person usually has to come into contact with an infected person’s secretions. One patient in China is said to have infected 15 medical staff members in a single hospital, proving that the disease could be very easy to catch.

A sneeze, cough, or a handshake could spread viruses. Viruses can also be transmitted by touching your eyes, nose or mouth after touching something that an infected person has touched. 

How can you stay safe from the Wuhan virus?

Antibiotics will not kill a virus. In fact, there is no known treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus at the moment. Patients who contract it are expected to fight it off on their own and get well with rest.

Zhong Nanshan of China’s National Health Commission announced that the virus will not be as serious as SARS since they were able to identify the new coronavirus just a couple of weeks after the outbreak was reported. Plus, there are better virus monitoring and quarantine measures available now.

What will lower your risk of getting infected?

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid making unnecessary trips to Wuhan
  • Wear a surgical mask if you’re sick to minimise the risk of sharing your germs with others
  • Avoid contact with live animals in the meantime
  • If you aren’t feeling well, see a doctor right away

What won’t help

  • Wearing an N95 mask because they are difficult to breathe in
  • Being afraid of tourists from China
  • Panicking
  • Getting a flu vaccine because a flu vaccine won’t protect you against a coronavirus