First things first, if you have symptoms similar to Coronavirus (CAVID-19) or suspect you have it, or if you have visited China, in particular the Wuhan district in the past 14 days, please call NHS 111 instead of attending a medical clinic.

There are many concerns around the world about the rapidly spreading coronavirus that emerged in China in December. Scientists are still scrambling to understand just how it started. Known as COVID-19, the new virus has already caused more deaths in China than the SARS pandemic of 2002-03 – and there have been new cases confirmed in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. A global health emergency has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), and in England there have been 8 cases confirmed so far. But what exactly is the coronavirus and how can we protect ourselves from the outbreak?

What is the coronavirus and is it new?

According to the WHO, coronaviruses make up a large family of viruses that are transmitted between animals and people. These viruses can cause mild to moderate respiratory diseases like the common cold as well as more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

There are other examples of coronaviruses that have caused devastating severe symptoms around the world previously, such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic in China.

What we are currently hearing about is a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) – a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. Originating in Wuhan, China, the new coronavirus had not previously been detected before December 2019. It has since been spreading around the world by international travellers, including in parts of Europe.

The new 2019-nCoV belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS-CoV, but it is a different strain of the virus.

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

Like with other respiratory illnesses, the new coronavirus can cause mild symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. The main symptoms also include a high temperature and shortness of breath.

It can, however, prove more severe for some people, in some cases leading to pneumonia and breathing difficulties. It is in more rare situations that the virus can also be fatal. Those with pre-existing conditions or who are older seem to be more vulnerable to the more severe symptoms, with recovery in most cases depending on the strength of their immune system.

Currently, there are no vaccines for the new coronavirus and antibiotics cannot be used to treat it.

How, then, can we protect ourselves?

The new virus can be transmitted from human to human, usually following close contact with someone who is infected.

We don’t yet know just how dangerous it is, but though there is currently no vaccine, there are things you can do to help prevent it from spreading, such as:

  • Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Bin used tissues straight away!
  • Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water often, or use hand sanitiser gel
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell

Scientists are still trying to understand how contagious the virus is and how exactly it spreads, so in the absence of a current cure and more substantial data it’s important to follow these simple steps to give yourself as much protection as you can!

Should I see a doctor if I have a cough?

If you have travelled to the UK from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, or Malaysia in the last two weeks and are experiencing cough, fever or shortness of breath, the NHS advises that you call NHS 111, even if your symptoms are mild. You should also make sure you stay indoors and avoid close contact with other people.

Should we be worried in the UK?

Though 99% of cases remain in China, there are currently cases in 28 other countries around the world.

The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency, but there is still much that can be done to halt the outbreak.

The government in the UK has raised the risk to the public from low to moderate. But the risk to individuals at present remains low.

Concentrating our efforts on hygienic practices remain, at present, our best weapon against the novel coronavirus!