Ordinary symptoms of a cold that people normally brush off may now be the sign of the possibly fatal and novel coronavirus of 2019 (2019-nCoV). According to China’s National Health Commission, there have been almost 8, 000 cases and 170 deaths in China as of January 29, 2020.
The 2019-nCoV originated in Wuhan, China with the first case occurring in mid-December of 2019. Since then, patients have tested positive for this illness in at least fifteen other countries worldwide, with five confirmed cases in the United States and three confirmed cases in Canada. The death rate is around 2-3 per cent.
The source of the coronavirus has been identified as a seafood market in Wuhan, which has since been shut down. It is believed that transmission occurred from the animals to workers, who then spread it to other people. Although the exact animal from which the 2019-nCoV originated is not known, the Journal of Medical Virology identifies snakes as a possible source.
Transmission can occur from close person to person contact. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2019-nCoV resembles two other coronaviruses, SARS and MERS. This suggests that transmission through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes is also possible, although more research is necessary. Signs and symptoms currently include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can show up anywhere from two to fourteen days after a person is infected. China has quarantined eighteen cities, restricting over fifty-six million citizens in an attempt to contain the virus. People are being encouraged to avoid leaving their houses and to work from home. Numerous cinemas, coffee shops, and indoor entertainment areas are being shut down temporarily. Over 4, 000 medical staff from all over China have come to the Hubei province, where most cases of the virus have occurred and at least two hospitals are being built for the sick. People entering the United States from Wuhan are being brought in through specific airports and screened for signs of the virus to reduce the chances of infecting others.
Originally, the World Health Organization (WHO) believed it was too early to declare a global health crisis. But as of January 30, 2019, WHO has officially declared a global health emergency. Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s head of emergencies, stated that “the virus is showing stability and not showing any unusual activity.” He also stated that 72 per cent of the of people diagnosed with the virus were over 40, and 40 per cent of cases had other underlying symptoms. This implies that older people, or people with other health conditions are more likely to be infected.
Currently, there is no treatment available for the specific strain, however researchers have started to work on a vaccine which may be available within several months. Several countries urge citizens to avoid travelling to China and are in the process of evacuating their citizens from Wuhan.
Alex Azar, secretary of Human Health and Services, says that “the risk to any individual American is extremely low.” Still, people are advised to wash their hands regularly and avoid travel to China. They are also urged to seek medical help if symptoms of a cold persist for more than a few days.
According to their website, the University of Toronto is “taking its guidance from public health agencies at the local, provincial, and federal level.” Currently students are encouraged to seek medical assistance if they are displaying any symptoms of the common cold and have recently travelled internationally to an affected region. They are also encouraged to maintain good hygiene and rest. As of now, no one is instructed to miss class if displaying symptoms of the flu, unless, of course, they choose to.
While the risk to Ontarians is still low, Erin Kraftcheck, the director of the Health and Counselling Centre announced during the Quality Services to Students (QSS) committee meeting on January 22, “We’re going to be doing increased screening for students who are presenting with fever and respiratory symptoms and following protocol set up by public health in order to ensure that we’re managing the situation appropriately.”