Novel coronavirus has been one of the biggest stories in the news lately, and it’s not surprising that it’s caused a lot of fear and anxiety.
We talked to our very own Dr. Jeff Powis, Infectious Diseases Specialist and Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control to get the inside story on the latest information, what the real risk is—and how to protect yourself.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause everything from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). They’re known as “coronaviruses” because when viewed under a microscope, they resemble the shape of a crown – “corona” is Latin for “crown.”
This particular virus is known as “novel coronavirus,” meaning that it had not been seen before in humans before it was identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
How dangerous is it?
Although the number of novel coronavirus cases is increasing in mainland China, I’m reassured by the emerging science and evidence, which suggests that this virus is likely not much different than influenza. In fact, it’s probably not more contagious and has a similar mortality rate compared to influenza. For most people, it causes mild symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, cough or fever.
Those who may be at increased risk of complications resulting from coronavirus are the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
"Many are worried that coronavirus is the new SARS, but the risk to Canadians is much less that the risk of SARS was two decades back. That’s because novel coronavirus appears to be significantly less severe than SARS and because our systems to manage disease outbreaks have evolved since then." - Dr. Jeff Powis
How is it transmitted?
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, inhaling droplets spread by coughing and sneezing, or by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus. The spread of coronaviruses from person to person appears to happen most often when people are in close contact and spend extended periods of time together.
How can I protect myself and my family?
The best way to protect yourself from novel coronavirus is by following good hygiene and taking the same steps you would to protect yourself from the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub
- Maintain space between you and anyone who has cold- or flu-like symptoms (ideally around 6 feet)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
If you’re sick:
- Make sure you cough or sneeze into your elbow
- Stay home! You’ll recover faster and avoid spreading your illness to others
- Seek medical attention early if you have a fever, cough and trouble breathing
- If you have recently visited a country where the novel coronavirus has been reported within the last two weeks, make sure to tell your care provider