Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that mainly affect the respiratory system. The severity of illness they cause ranges from a common cold to very serious and even fatal respiratory infections. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and high fever, whereas in some severe cases and depending on the virus strain, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death may occur. It is worth noting that SARS-CoV that was transmitted to humans from civet cats in China in 2002 and MERS-CoV transmitted to humans from camels in Saudi Arabia in 2012 also belong in the coronavirus family.
The recent outbreak that started in China is caused by a new strain that broke the species barrier, i.e. it was transmitted from animals to humans and subsequently transmitted from humans to humans. A new strain identified to humans for the first time is called a novel coronavirus and, in this case, it has been given the name 2019-nCoV.
The animal source of 2019-nCoV, the degree of transmissibility, morbidity and mortality are still under investigation since necessary data to draw safe conclusions do not yet exist. To date a coronavirus vaccine is not yet available neither is there a specific treatment. The treatment is symptomatic and each case is dealt individually according to their symptoms and clinical presentation.
Preventive measures are non-specific including basic hygiene rules: frequent hands washing, avoidance of contact with people with respiratory symptoms (cough, sneezing), basic respiratory hygiene, safe use & tissue disposal, surface and device cleaning (door handles, phones, keyboards etc.) and avoidance of crowded places. Furthermore, it is recommended to consume safe, fully cooked food and to avoid consumption of raw animal products. Additional recommendations include the avoidance of contact with living or dead animals in local markets, as well as travelling to the province of Kubei and Wuhan city in China.
As of January 26, 2020, a total of 2026 laboratory confirmed cases of 2019-nCov have been announced; 1988 in China and 38 imported cases from countries around the world. A total of 56 deaths have been announced (ECDC).
Even though scattered cases of the disease have been announced in Europe (France), Greece is so far disease free.
Currently Greece is experiencing the seasonal influenza outbreak for which the available influenza vaccination is the only effective prevention recommended to all individuals of 6 months old and above and especially to populations at high risk for complications.
Important note: The influenza vaccination does not protect, neither is indicated against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
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By Anna Tzortzi, MD, Pulmonologist
Scientific Director “George D. Behrakis Research Lab”
Associate Director “Institute of Public Health, The American College of Greece”