The world is reeling around the terrible tragedy in Wuhan city of China, thousands dead, several thousand sick and a city under quarantine for almost a month. This looks straight out of a science fiction movie but actually, it is real life.
What exactly is happening in China?
Corona virus causes a relatively benign infection in wild animals. It lives in harmony with bats without causing any problems. However, this infection is alien to domestic animals and humans, and they do not have any immunity against it. When human beings get exposed to such so called zoonotic viruses, our body tries very hard to fight it out and in the process a lot of people become sick and some eventually die.
In China late last year, an alien corona virus entered into the human system probably because of exposure to peri-domesticated or wild mammals from a wet market in the Huanan region of Wuhan. Initially lot of workers and managers developed lung infection, then visitors to the market got involved and finally the general population. People started presenting with pneumonia to the local infectious disease hospital in significant numbers, which made China realise that something was wrong. They immediately started working on isolating the organism and by early January the novel corona virus, COVID-2019 was identified. However, for the tertiary care hospital to get such an influx of severe pneumonia, there should have been several minor cases walking around or going to local clinics. Nobody was aware of the risks posed at that time. The virus was so infectious that each patient was spreading the virus to 2 to 3 contacts. With the winter holidays in China, people were traveling throughout China and around the world and the numbers just exploded.
China reacted dramatically. It closed down Wuhan city and almost the entire province of Hubei was quarantined. This is something unheard of in the history of mankind. But the virus had already percolated to other provinces and other countries to a significant extent by then. The sudden massive quarantine of Wuhan city did increase the mortality in Wuhan but the spread of the virus was largely contained. The city of Wuhan in Hubei province has since then been battling this virus bravely amidst heavy causality.
This novel corona virus, named COVID-19 is highly infectious, that is, it can spread easily from one person to another. The spread happens at close quarters, by physical contact with an infected person, by contact with an object that was used by an infected person or by direct exposure to the patient’s cough and sneezing at close proximity. Exposed individuals develop a flu like syndrome, fever, cough, cold and breathlessness. The symptoms can vary from minimal cold to severe breathlessness requiring ventilator support. The good news about COVID-19 is its low virulence. Less than 2% of patients are killed by this virus. Advanced age, uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, heart, lung or liver problem, immune-compromising drugs, etc. have been associated with poor outcome and increased mortality. To put it simply, if we get exposed to this virus, there is a very high chance of getting this infection but also a 98% chance of surviving it.
The best way to prevent getting a respiratory viral infection is by maintaining proper hygiene. If anybody has cough and cold, they should be isolated at home. During cough and cold season, avoid physically touching people, avoid overcrowded areas, wash hands frequently and follow cough etiquette.
Greet people with folded hands than with a handshake. Stay safe.
Dr. Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan
MD., DNB., DTM&H., MRCP(UK)., FRCP(Glas)., FRCP(Edin)
Senior Consultant in Infectious Diseases
Kauvery Hospital, Chennai