22 Jan 2020
All you need to know about the deadly coronavirus outbreak
Over the past month, an infectious virus, never seen in humans before, has infected hundreds of people across many nations.
The virus, called novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has since spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the United States and perhaps even Australia.
So, what is the virus and how could you shield yourself from it?
What is the 2019-nCoV?
The 2019-nCoV is a coronavirus that belongs to the family Coronaviridae. The virus only has single-stranded RNA and needs to hijack other living cells to multiply.
It is genetically different from the Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS)—both of which caused hundreds of deaths across many countries.
However, 2019-nCoV has a 70% genetic similarity to SARS.
Virus believed to have originated from Wuhan seafood market
The outbreak has been traced back to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, however, researchers are still looking to confirm its actual origins.
Since previous coronavirus outbreaks have been traced to marketplaces selling animal meats, it is believed the 2019-nCoV transmitted to humans through animals.
Typically, coronaviruses are found in pets and wildlife, such as bats.
What happens once you're infected by the coronavirus?
Upon contact with a possible host, the 2019-nCoV mainly targets the lungs.
This can lead to respiratory infections such as coughing, difficulty in breathing and pneumonia-like symptoms.
In immunocompromised persons, such as the elderly or those with AIDS, these symptoms can manifest as severe illnesses.
The infection can also lead to fever, multiple organ failure and in some cases, death.
How bad is the outbreak?
The majority of confirmed cases of a coronavirus infection have been reported from China, where 440 people were infected as of Wednesday. The outbreak has also led to nine deaths in China.
In Thailand, two confirmed cases were reported, followed by one each in Japan, South Korea, and the US.
One suspected case of 2019-nCoV infection has also been observed in Australia.
What can you do to keep yourself safe?
Since the virus is new, there's no vaccine or treatment available to stop it.
Fortunately, human-to-human transmission is believed to be low (this is still being investigated).
In any case, it has been advised to avoid close contact with those infected or with living or dead wild/farm animals.
Wash your hands frequently, maintain proper hygiene, and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal meats.