The new coronavirus: should you be concerned?

With frightening reports about the new coronavirus in the news all the time, it’s hard not to worry. You may be concerned about the virus becoming a pandemic, or suspect that it’s already in your local area. However, we all know that sometimes the news makes things sound worse than they are. What do we really know about the risks from this disease, and what practical measures can you take to keep yourself and your family safe?

How dangerous is it?

The new disease is part of a family of viruses that includes some of those responsible for the common cold. Most people who get it have symptoms like those of a bad cold or flu. In elderly people and people with additional health conditions, however, these symptoms can be much worse. Around 2% of people who contract the new coronavirus die. Although there is no cure at the moment, it’s possible to reduce the risk of death by easing the symptoms. This is easier to do if the illness is diagnosed before it becomes severe, so if you or a loved one develop a fever and a dry cough, phone your doctor for advice.

How easy is it to catch?

This coronavirus can be passed from person to person but isn’t quite as infectious as the common cold. You’re most likely to catch it from an infected person with whom you spend a lot of time, such as a work colleague or a family member. It usually enters the body through the eyes, mouth, nose or ears, and it can be carried on a cough or sneeze or through a shared drinking vessel. It can live for a few hours outside the body, so good sanitation around infected people is important, but you can’t catch it from objects such as parcels sent from China.

What’s being done about it?

Internationally, work is underway to create a vaccine that can prevent people from contracting the virus, and to develop better treatments for those who have already been infected. The Chinese drug registration service is giving top priority to new medicines of this sort and they are quickly being tested to find out if they’re safe and effective. In the meantime, travel restrictions and quarantine procedures are being used where appropriate, around the world, to try and limit the spread of the disease.

What should individuals do?

Many infections occur when people get the virus on their hands and then touch their faces. Try to touch your face as little as possible and practice good hand hygiene, washing them frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based gel. If you cough or sneeze, cover your face with a disposable handkerchief or your bent elbow, not your hand. If you do become infected, wearing a mask can reduce the risk of you infecting somebody else.

Although this coronavirus is dangerous, it doesn’t need to lead to disaster. By taking these basic precautions, you can help to keep it under control until it can be cured or halted using a vaccine – and these precautions will keep you safer from other diseases.