Coronavirus 101: How dangerous is it, what are the symptoms and other questions

All your main questions about coronavirus answered.
Published February 11, 2020

Your key questions answered about coronavirus disease, or Covid-19.

Where did the virus come from?

The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another animal species.

There are also reports that the intermediate host could be pangolins, according to researchers at the South China Agricultural University.

WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan at the end of December. A week later, Chinese authorities confirmed they had identified a new virus.

How dangerous is it?

The new virus, identified by scientists as Covid-19, is a coronavirus, a family of viruses that include the common cold and more serious diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

A woman and a boy purchase face masks in Hong Kong on Feb 1. ─ AP
A woman and a boy purchase face masks in Hong Kong on Feb 1. ─ AP

Coronavirus infections have a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

It is unclear how deadly the new virus is. Although severe cases can cause pneumonia and death, there may be many cases of milder disease going undetected. Many of those who have died had pre-existing medical conditions or were elderly, those with weakened immune systems.

How is it transmitted?

The new coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person, although it is not clear how easily that happens.

Transmission is most likely through close contact with an infected person via particles in the air from coughing or sneezing, or by someone touching an infected person or object with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Transmission through small respiratory droplets, called aerosols, can also occur in settings that are crowded or have poor ventilation including indoor places like restaurants, wedding halls, offices, gyms, places of worship etc.

Doctors in China have also said that pregnant women infected with the new coronavirus may be able to pass it to their unborn children.

Are antibiotics effective?

No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

The new coronavirus is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalised for Covid-19, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

Are there any medicines to prevent or treat coronavirus?

Indians who arrived from Wuhan are transported in a bus to a quarantine facility, at the airport in New Delhi, India. ─ AP
Indians who arrived from Wuhan are transported in a bus to a quarantine facility, at the airport in New Delhi, India. ─ AP

Multiple companies are working on drugs that may help in treating the novel coronavirus. Gilead Inc's remdesivir drug, according to some reports, has shown improvement in Covid-19 patients in clinical trials and has been approved by several countries including Japan, India and United States for emergency treatment. In Pakistan, Ferozsons Laboratories' subsidiary BF Biosciences Ltd (BFBL) has signed a non-exclusive license agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc for manufacturing and selling remdesivir.

Recently, however, the WHO conducted a clinical trial and concluded that the anti-viral drug has little or no impact on a patient’s chances of surviving Covid-19.

As researchers scramble to find an effective treatment for the virus, many pharmaceutical companies are trying to come with a vaccine. The United Kingdom has already approved a vaccine manufatured by Pfizer and will start a vaccination drive next week.

How can it be prevented?

WHO’s standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows, which include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:

  • Always wear a mask when out or among people;
  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue — throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough;
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider;
  • When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;
  • The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

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