The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has certainly been a topic of conversation and concern ever since news of the outbreak was first reported on 31 December 2019, in Wuhan, China. The coronavirus first appeared to be pneumonia in a group of individuals who had been to a seafood market in Wuhan.

Since then, the virus has spread throughout China, into Asia, Europe, America and more recently, Africa. Australia sees a large percentage of its tourists from China, with 1.43 million Chinese tourists in 2018, so it’s not unusual that we have also discovered cases of the virus here. At the date of writing, Australia has seen 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with four of those being in NSW. In a population of over 25 million people, this is a small percentage of patients but nevertheless still alarming and concerning. So why is the coronavirus a global health emergency?

Globally, there have been 75,302 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2012 reported deaths, the majority of which are citizens living in the Hubei province of China. The coronavirus outbreak has been classed a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the virus has moved so rapidly from China to increasingly affect other countries as mentioned earlier .

Experts think that the COVID-19 first originated from an animal species before being spread to humans. While the exact methods of how it’s spread are not certain, scientists believe that the virus can be spread from human to human via contact through contaminated droplets such as sneezing or coughing. Further, we are told that there is the possibility of being infected by the virus through contaminated surfaces, although we do know that the COVID-19 does not last long on surfaces so the contamination risk in this instance is less likely. Despite the virus having a 14-day incubation period, most cases have primarily been spread from those who have already developed symptoms.

Those who are most at risk are those who have been China recently together with those who care for the infected (family members and health professionals). Symptoms of the novel coronavirus are very similar to that of the average flu. They include fever, cough, runny nose, diarrhoea, vomiting, shortness of breath, fatigue and other respiratory issues. Symptoms tend to be mild to moderate for most cases, although those with pre-existing health issues, such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney failure, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly, may experience more severe symptoms and are at a higher risk of more significant illness.

If you are experiencing suspected symptoms and especially if you have been in China within the last fourteen days, please seek medical attention. Call your doctor, local emergency services or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. The diagnosis will include obtaining respiratory samples, such as swabs to test for the coronavirus.

WHO has stated that healthy members of the public are not recommended to wear face masks, as this will not necessarily protect healthy individuals from the virus. However, those who are showing symptoms are encouraged to wear a face mask and isolate themselves at home for 14 days, eliminating exposure to the public. Individuals who have been in contact with an infected person or have recently returned from mainland China are also encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks.

Currently, there is no specific treatment or vaccine that targets COVID-19. As it is a fairly new virus, it is constantly evolving in its symptoms and the treatment against it. WHO recommends frequent and vigilant handwashing, avoiding close contact with wild animals and avoiding contact with those who have been infected while treatment and vaccines are being developed.

As we work in the medical industry, this may not always be possible. Standing on the frontline of healthcare, we are more susceptible to health emergencies such as the coronavirus. As is the case for everyone, it is recommended that you follow WHO’s 5 Moments of Hang Hygiene as we constantly interact with patients who are unwell and may have lowered immune systems.

5 moments of hand hygiene