Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

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 syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

COVID-19 (2019-CoV)- 19 - the illness that started in Wuhan?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

Wuhan coronavirus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019. At the time of writing, numbers of infected are still on the rise, with a mortality rate of around 1 percent.

Snakes were originally suspected as a potential source for the outbreak, though other experts have deemed this unlikely and proposed bats instead. As of February 2020, the search for the animal origin of COVID-19 is ongoing.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV)

SARS was first recognised as a distinct strain of coronavirus in 2003. The source of the virus has never been clear, though the first human infections can be traced back to the Chinese province of Guangdong in 2002.

The virus then became a pandemic, causing more than 8,000 infections of an influenza-like disease in 26 countries with close to 800 deaths.

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV)

MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 in people displaying symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath and occasionally gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea. An animal source for the virus has never been officially confirmed, though evidence points to dromedary camels as a potential reservoir of infection.

The World Health Organisation has identified around 2,500 cases of infection in 27 countries since initial outbreaks, resulting in nearly 860 deaths.

Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus given by WHO (World Health Organization)

Wash your hands frequently.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub eliminates the virus if it is on your hands.

Practice respiratory hygiene.

When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Why? Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing prevent the spread of germs and viruses. If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you may contaminate objects or people that you touch.

Maintain social distancing.

Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.

Why? When someone who is infected with a respiratory disease, like 2019-nCoV, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

Why? Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early!

Tell your health care provider if you have travelled in an area in China where 2019-nCoV has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has travelled from China and has respiratory symptoms.

Why? Whenever you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing it’s important to seek medical attention promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Respiratory symptoms with fever can have a range of causes, and depending on your personal travel history and circumstances, 2019-nCoV could be one of them.

If you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China.

If you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China, carefully practice basic respiratory and hand hygiene and stay home until you are recovered, if possible.

As a general precaution, practice general hygiene measures when visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets.

Ensure regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products; avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands; and avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products. Strictly avoid any contact with other animals in the market (e.g., stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds, bats). Avoid contact with potentially contaminated animal waste or fluids on the soil or structures of shops and market facilities.

Avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products.

Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.