Everything You Should Know About The New Coronavirus Outbreak

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A Chinese citizen who arrived at Yangon Airport on a China Eastern Airlines flight on January 31 was suspected of being infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, according to BBC Burmese reports on Facebook. The patient was admitted to Wai Bar Gi Hospital in Yangon and later was discharged after tested negative for coronavirus on Feb 3. 

Despite no confirmed cases in Myanmar, China on January 28 repatriated on a charter flight 73 Chinese tourists who had flown to Mandalay from Wuhan on January 23.

Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said January 30 that it had arranged a charter flight to bring 63 students stranded in Wuhan back to Myanmar, even though talks with Chinese authorities about the evacuation plan had not been finalized. The Health Ministry said it would quarantine and screen the students once they arrive in Myanmar.

“The Public Health Department have always implemented monitoring activities at international airports, docks and border gates to prevent the entry of SARS, MERS, Zika and Ebola virus, and we will continue to do so,” Tun Tin, director of Myanmar’s Central Epidemiology Unit, said at a press conference January 28.

“In fact, we had increased efforts on existing prevention and quarantine processes before WHO made their announcement on January 5,” he added.

On January 31, the Myanmar government formed the Central Committee for Disease Control to “diagnose, control and monitor” the situation as well as to review the responsibilities for procuring necessary items such as drugs and labs.

As officials and social media sites scramble to stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation, here are some of the common questions/myths:

1. What is coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the viruses are commonly found in many different species of animals including camels, cattle, cats and bats.

The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), first reported in Wuhan in December, is a new strain that have not previously been identified in humans. The virus has spread at a meteoric speed – with reported death toll topping 200 and worldwide infections nearing 10,000 as of January 31. WHO has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

2. Where did it originate from?

Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, the epicenter of the outbreak, was shut down in late December and is under close watch by the government.

On January 26, China’s state news agency Xinhua, quoting experts at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed that the virus originated from wild animals on sale at Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market. A few days later, state media quoted a Chinese pulmonary disease specialist as saying that the seafood market may not have been the only source of the outbreak.

Scientists from Peking University in Beijing have traced the coronavirus to snakes – the Chinese krait and cobra. After comparing the DNA of the virus with other pathogens from different places and species, they suggested that 2019-nCoV is a “combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another coronavirus of unknown origin”. As snakes were the “intermediate host” between bats and humans and were sold at the market, contact with the snakes could have caused infections.

3. What are the symptoms and complications?

While some infected individuals may not show any symptoms, others may suffer from severe and fatal complications. According to the CDC, reported illnesses have ranged from people feeling mildly sick to patients being severely ill and dying. In severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

Although the incubation period of the coronavirus remains unknown, the CDC, basing its views on the incubation period of the MERS virus, said it could be between two and 14 days.

4. Is the virus transmitted from human to human? Ans: Yes!

Chinese scientists confirmed the human-to-human transmission nature of the virus in a report published in the Lancet medical journal on January 24, citing the first case of 2019-nCoV infection without link to the seafood market in Wuhan.

In a separate report published in Lancet on the same day, a group of doctors and scientists from Hong Kong University and China’s State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases together with the renowned infectious diseases expert Yuen Kwok-yung confirmed that the coronavirus is able to transmit from human to human.

Health investigators are conducting studies on how easily the virus can spread between humans and the feasibility of airborne transmission.

5. Is there a cure? Ans: No! 

While medical researchers have been working against the clock, no cure has been reported.

Chinese scientists were able to identify the genetic code of the new virus and shortly after, officials released it to the public. Scientists in the U.S. and Australia have since been working to develop a vaccine. On January 28, an official at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the institution was speeding up work on a coronavirus vaccine that could commence an early-stage trial in three months.

Meanwhile, scientists at pharmaceutical company Inovio’s lab in San Diego have adopted a new DNA technology to develop a potential vaccine, which is expected to go into trial by the middle of the year.

Other efforts to develop a vaccine are still at an early stage.

6. Are surgical masks effective in preventing infection? Only the BASICS!

The CDC recommends that suspected patients under investigation wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified. They should “be evaluated in a private room with the door closed, ideally an airborne-infection isolation room if available”. 

Surgical masks only prevent the spread of the virus via droplets in the air. They lack an airtight seal between the mask and the face, leaving space through which the wearers can come into contact with the virus. WHO recommends washing hands frequently, covering the mouth while coughing and sneezing and avoiding the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products.

Medical research suggests using airborne precautions such as wearing an N95 respirator or other personal protection equipment to prevent further spread of the disease.

7. Fun Fact: Virus Simulation Game Goes Viral in China

“The plague was unlike everything we had ever encountered before. It came out of nowhere, spreading,” said the trailer of Plague Inc., a strategy game about epidemics and war that has gone viral in China as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

Developed by British game studio Ndemic Creations, Plague Inc. has risen to the top of iOS App Store charts in China. The game requires players to evolve a pathogen in a bid to wipe out humanity. Many discussions have been made on the similarities of the game and the ongoing real-life situation in China and, increasingly, worldwide.