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jueves, 6 de agosto 2020
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Coronavirus: be on alert, but don't panic!

by UdeA Noticias

The outbreak of coronavirus that emerged in China in November 2019 has already spread to seven other countries. By the end of January 2020, the disease had caused 80 deaths among nearly 600 people infected. So far, no worldwide alert has been declared.

About 41 million people in 13 Chinese cities are in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Image taken from Pixabay.

UdeA School of Medicine professor Francisco Díaz, a microbiologist with a PhD in virology who serves as researcher at the Immunovirology Research Group, explains some clues to understand the behavior of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We also share information and recommendations provided by the Antioquia Department of Health and the World Health Organization -WHO-.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are among the family of viruses that cause respiratory diseases to both people and some animal species. They are named after the fact that when observed in a microscope, they exhibit a crown or halo. Human coronavirus generally causes common cold, which has no serious consequences.

But coronaviruses associated with animals (zoonotic coronavirus) behave in a very aggressive manner, as was demonstrated in November 2002, when an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in China and spread to 37 countries affecting nearly 8,000 people. This outbreak had a mortality rate of approximately 10%.

In 2012, an outbreak of the so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) emerged in Saudi Arabia (2,400 cases reported). The 2012 outbreak had a mortality rate of 35% and caused 800 deaths, most of them in the Middle East.

What about the 2020 outbreak?

The current outbreak, also known as 2019-nCoV, which is the third of its kind in this century, was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in November 2019. Since then, hundreds of cases have been reported in 25 regions of China, three in Thailand, and one in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.

According to a January 2020 report 80 deaths have occurred in China but the virus has spread to 13 other countries. Scientists are still unclear about the origin of the new outbreak but it is known that it behaves similarly to the previous outbreaks.

Is this outbreak zoonotic?

The researchers are not absolutely sure if the 2020 outbreak is associated with an animal source since the original carrier has not yet been found, however, they have confirmed that this outbreak is very different from those related to human-transmitted coronaviruses, and therefore, it is presumed that it was originally transmitted by an animal source.

In addition, the first cases reported in Wuhan were detected in people who worked or had recently been in a live animal market. Apparently, it was in one of those markets where the first transmission to people occurred and where the spread for the rest of the city population began.

What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?

The most common symptoms include fever and respiratory problems, such as cough and dyspnea (trouble breathing). The most serious cases can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Is there a treatment available for the new coronavirus?

Because it is a virus different from the previous outbreaks, there is no appropriate diagnosis to detect and combat the virus in a timely manner, however, the Chinese were extraordinarily efficient in detecting the problem and disseminate the information to the World Health Organization and the international scientific community, facilitating the issuance of a worldwide alert.

A protocol against the spread of respiratory viruses (International Health Regulations, 2005) was launched after the 2002 pandemic. The protocol includes safety measures at airports, as well as recommendations on how to limit the spread and management of patients requiring hospital treatment.


About 600 people worldwide have tested positive for the virus, according to WHO reports. Illustration taken from Pixaline.

Why did WHO rule out the global alert for coronavirus outbreak?

Although intense discussions on the coronavirus were carried out by WHO, it was very difficult to reach a final decision in order to minimize the impact that a global alarm would cause. However, this transitory measure could change if the outbreak spreads to more countries and the number of cases and deaths increases considerably.

Is Colombia sufficiently prepared for the arrival of the outbreak?

Both the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Health have provided the competent authorities with guidelines to comply with WHO recommendations. Extraordinary safety measures were activated at Colombian airports and ports. Migration authorities will verify the place of origin of travelers who must respond if they have symptoms of respiratory disease, especially if they come from an Asian country. Also, health professionals and other health care providers have specific instructions to treat people who are suspected of carrying the virus.

What are the recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission?

  • Cover mouth and nose with a surgical mask
  • Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing, shaking hands with other people and leaning on handrails and other elements exposed to public contact
  • It is also advisable to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Avoid large gatherings and crowds as much as possible, and keep at least 1-2 meters of distance from a person with respiratory symptoms
  • Use safe food handling practices

Who is more at risk of infection?

The average age of those who died by the novel coronavirus is over 70. So far there are no reports of children or young people killed by the disease, which means that older people are the most vulnerable.
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus or chronic kidney disease are more at risk of becoming infected, because they have very diminished functional reserves, so they will have less chance of fighting a severe infection such as coronavirus.

This is the second time in the century that an outbreak has emerged in China, is there a cause associated with this?

Live animal markets are common in China. And it is not only about domesticated animals, such as chickens or pigs, but also wild animals such as snakes, rodents, insects and other wildlife coexisting in conditions that can facilitate the transmission of viruses not only between them but also to humans. These places are commonly crowded, and therefore there is a high risk of virus transmission. This factor seems to be responsible for the novel coronavirus strain.

If you have questions about COVID-19, please contact the Antioquia Department of Health through the WhatsApp line (57) 321 853 3928. Specialized health care personnel will answer your questions and, if necessary, will visit you at home to provide the corresponding care. People with symptoms should not go to health-care facilities.

Sistema Único de Información de Trámites - SUIT
Fundación Universidad de Antioquia
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