Health + Wellness

10 Q&As about the Wuhan Virus

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The Wuhan Virus is a new coronavirus strain that was identified in Wuhan, China. The first case was detected on 31 December, and since then has been positively identified across 10 countries.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are common, and known to cause infections in the nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most Coronaviruses are not dangerous with only two known cases that are considered deadly. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are examples of the deadly types of Coronaviruses.

There is a health advisory issued by the Ministry of Health in Singapore advising “all travellers to China (to) monitor their health closely and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, and also inform their doctor of their travel history.”

The health advisory also shares the following precautions for the public to practice:

  • Avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds, and consumption of raw and undercooked meats;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness;
  • Observe good personal hygiene;
  • Practise frequent hand washing with soap (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing);
  • Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose;
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing, and dispose the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately; and
  • Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell.

Source: Updates on local situation regarding severe pneumonia cluster in Wuhan

wuhan virus
Dr. John Cheng, Healthway Medical

Healthway Medical’s Head of Primary Care, Dr John Cheng shares about the Wuhan virus with the Active Age

The Active Age (AA): What do we know about the virus today?

Dr. John Cheng (JC): The virus behind the outbreak at Wuhan city in the Hubei province of China is said to be a new coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, a new strain of the coronavirus. The 2019-nCoV belongs to a family of coronaviruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals.

Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people.

This occurred in the cases of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2015.

Many of the patients diagnosed with the new strain of coronavirus had some link to a local seafood and animal market. On 22 January, Chinese authorities confirmed that the infection can also be contracted through human-to-human spread.

As of 23 January, 2020, in Singapore, a total of ten individuals (as of 23 January, 2020) have been warded and isolated as a precautionary measure.

(Editor’s note: The first confirmed case of the Wuhan Virus has been confirmed in Singapore.)

As there has yet to be any conclusive information about the origin and nature of the virus through the efforts of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Wuhan Health authorities, it is best not to take the situation lightly especially with the Chinese New Year holidays around the corner.

AA: What are airports screening for?

JC: At airports, we can expect to encounter temperature screening tests, to detect fever-like symptoms. Given the source of the outbreak, visitors arriving from or with a travel history in China will be more closely monitored when passing through airports.

(Editor’s note: Monitoring has expanded to all travellers at all land and sea entry checkpoints.)

AA: What happens when a person is sent to the hospital from the airport as a result of the screening?

JC: After passing through the temperature screenings at airports, suspected cases will be immediately quarantined and transported to a hospital for further assessment.

The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) definition of suspect cases that will be referred to hospitals include persons with:

  • Pneumonia symptoms (fever, coughing and breathing difficulties) and travel history to China within 14 days before onset of symptoms
  • Acute respiratory infection who had been to any hospital in China, within 14 days before onset of symptoms.

AA: Will getting a vaccine (e.g. a flu vaccine) help?

JC: Unlike the common cold (rhinovirus), there is no vaccine for coronavirus, so it is extremely important to practice caution and good hygiene. However, as it is also the peak influenza period, it is always advisable to get your regular influenza vaccines to prevent infection.

AA: What is the standard procedure at GP clinics for dealing with suspected cases?

JC: The following protocols have been put in place to manage patients at various check points:

  • At the initial screening point: All patients will be screened for fever and cough AND recent travel to mainland China in the past two weeks
  • If both elements are present, patient will be classified as a suspected case: Clinic staff will provide the patient with a surgical mask and escort the patient to a designated isolation room within or outside the clinic. Clinic staff will notify the doctor on duty for immediate attention.
  • Post-consultation: The patient will be escorted to the designated isolation room within or outside the clinic, and clinic staff will immediately carry out environmental cleaning by disinfecting surface areas (e.g. doorknobs, chairs, tables). Doctor will then notify the Ministry of Health (MOH) and call an ambulance to take the patient to a hospital for follow-up observation and care in an isolated ward.

AA: If I am travelling to China (or any country with a declared case), would wearing a surgical mask or N95 mask help?

JC: Often, individuals put on surgical masks to protect against the spread of viruses like the flu. However, in this case, a surgical mask is not enough to protect against the virus.

Surgical masks are only useful for contact precaution (mainly for healthcare workers who needs to be in close contact with patients), or droplet precaution (to prevent contact with saliva/sputum, a mixture of saliva and mucuous). In the latter case, there is some merit to considering the use of a surgical mask.

As the current mechanism of transmission is unclear, it is still uncertain if the virus is airborne. In the case of airborne viruses, a surgical mask will not be able to prevent infection, only an N95 mask.

As such, a surgical mask can be considered as a preventative measure, but there is no conclusive evidence at the moment to support the idea that it can protect an individual against the possibility of an airborne virus.

AA: What should I do when I return from my trip to China?

JC: While traveling back to Singapore, it is important to practice good hygiene. Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, and covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

You should also avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

In crowded spaces like an airplane cabin and airport terminal, you can consider putting on a surgical mask. But do note that a surgical mask does not protect you against airborne viruses.

Upon your return to Singapore, you should monitor your health closely and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, or show any respiratory symptoms. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider of your recent travel history as well.

AA: What signs and symptoms should I look out for to make sure I’m healthy?

JC: At present, the virus is still being studied and the WHO is looking closely into the causes and symptoms specific to the 2019-nCoV (Wuhan Virus).

However, symptoms to look out for include fever and symptoms associated with fevers and colds such as a runny nose, headache, cough a, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

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

AA: What should I do if I suspect that I may have the virus?

JC: If you suspect that you may have the virus, you should seek medical attention promptly and inform your doctor of your recent travel history.

To safeguard the health of your loved ones, you should also restrict your contact with them, especially during the Chinese New Year holiday season

AA: What should I do if I suspect a family member or friend has the virus?

JC: If you suspect that a family member or friend has the virus, ask them to seek medical attention. You should also seek medical attention promptly to check if you have been infected.

In the meantime, try to avoid close contact with them, and disinfect the objects and surfaces they have touched to reduce your risk of infection.


All information shared above is accurate as of 23 January, 2020.

Image credit to Gov.SG. The original image can be viewed here.


For further reading, please refer to the following list:

Singapore Ministry of Health: Updates on local situation regarding severe pneumonia cluster in Wuhan

CNA:

CNN Health: Coronavirus explained: What you need to know

WHO: Novel Coronavirus

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