As the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of Hong Kong warns that we've entered this year's winter influenza season, you've probably heard by now of another health concern; the outbreak of pneumonia that has been spreading in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Though the virus isn't prevalent in Hong Kong yet, many people fear it could become another outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) — a deadly epidemic in 2003 that claimed 299 lives and affected 1,755 people in Hong Kong.
To help ease concerns, we'd like to provide some guidance in some ways you can protect yourself & your family this season.
What is Wuhan pneumonia?
Until recently, the causes of pneumonia was unknown, worrying many people around South-east Asia. But early in January, Chinese laboratory tests confirmed a new type of coronavirus. Fortunately, these tests ruled out SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus and other common respiratory pathogens.
Officials believe the new virus belongs to the same family of viruses that caused other severe diseases such as SARS and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Until these cases, the coronavirus wasn't previously identified in humans before — but its source is still unknown. It's suspected to transmit from animals, similar to the SARS virus and MERS virus, and both believed to have originated from bats then affecting humans.
How severe is the current outbreak?
As of 15th January here's what we know:
- The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission first revealed 27 pneumonia cases on 31st December 2019, and a couple of days later, the number of confirmed cases rose to 59.
- There has been one confirmed death due to respiratory failure. The individual visited the Wuhan seafood market frequently.
- There are also 41 confirmed cases in China, with seven in critical condition.
- In HK, the CHP recorded a total of 68 suspected cases (all with travel history to Wuhan). However, laboratory results show the majority of these cases were influenza, and most patients were discharged.
- The Wuhan seafood market (which also sells meats) has been closed since the 1st January for sanitation and disinfection.
Although the figures are scary, so far, the new disease does appear far milder than feared. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has not identified any definite evidence of human-to-human transmission. However, it's better to be safe as the WHO suggests that some coronaviruses do transmit from person-to-person.
What are the common symptoms?
Common symptoms of a coronavirus include:
- shortness of breath
- breathing difficulties
And similarly, patients infected with Wuhan pneumonia have shown symptoms of fever and difficulty breathing. If you present any of the above symptoms, please consult with your doctor immediately, especially if you have recently travelled to Wuhan. Although it's unlikely to be the Wuhan pneumonia as it's also currently peak flu season.
How you can protect yourself
Both the WHO and CHP have published guidelines for the public to protect themselves. These include:
#1. Keep good personal hygiene
As viruses could be transmitted through respiratory secretions, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water — especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes or after touching public installations. Using alcohol-based hand wash is an alternative when washing your hands isn't an option.
#2. Avoid places with large crowds and compromised foods
The CHP has advised against going to crowded or poorly ventilated public areas, as well as consuming game meat or visiting food premises where game meat is served. The public is also advised to adhere to food safety and hygiene rules such as avoiding consuming raw or undercooked animal products or foods that could be contaminated by animal secretions.
#3. See a doctor as soon as you have symptoms
If you observe respiratory symptoms such as fever and especially after travelling, wear a surgical mask and seek medical advice immediately. Even if you are unsure about the disease you may have, always consult a doctor. It's better to stay on the safer side.
#4. Get vaccinated
While no vaccine is currently available for this new coronavirus, it's strongly advised to receive seasonal influenza vaccination as soon as possible (as it usually takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection). It's the most effective way to prevent influenza and limit its complications.
We anticipate that local seasonal influenza activity will continue to rise in the coming weeks and remain at an elevated level for some time.
Although new information is still flowing in about the status of Wuhan pneumonia, the best you can do is to take the above-mentioned measures to protect yourself and others. It's best to avoid unventilated areas, maintain good personal hygiene and get vaccinated for the flu. If you're experiencing any flu-like symptoms recently, seek medical advice as soon as possible.