Credit: 123rf

Don’t mess with the Wuhan! There is a new virus going around internationally. It was identified in China and has spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US. 

A first case has been detected in Singapore, reported The Straits Times on Jan 23, 2020. A 66-year-old man, a Wuhan resident, who arrived in Singapore on Monday (Jan 20), tested positive for the virus.

Singapore is taking measures to curb its possible spread while world health authorities and scientists try to learn more about this new virus.

You should arm yourself with knowledge about it so here’s a thing or two for you to know about the Wuhan virus.

What is the Wuhan virus?

Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Wuhan virus, also referred to as 2019-nCoV, is a novel coronavirus, resembling pneumonia-like symptoms, that was not previously identified by scientists in humans. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Coronaviruses are common among animals but in rare cases, they become zoonotic – meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans. 

The WHO states detailed investigations found that SARS was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS from dromedary camels to humans. The SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, that also originated in China, killed 774 people globally while MERS that originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012, resulted in 858 deaths worldwide.

How did the virus start and spread?

Wuhan is also a major transport hub in China. Chinese authorities have locked down the city and suspended all public transport in and out of the new first-tier city.
Credit: The Straits Times graphic

It was first detected in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, in China, with a population of 11 million. Chinese authorities alerted the WHO on Dec 31, 2019 of an outbreak of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan. By Jan 13, 2020, a case of the virus emerged in Thailand then another in Japan the next day.

It is unknown how the Wuhan virus was first contacted but a large seafood and meat market (Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market), apparently also peddling live animals and animal parts together with the seafood, is suspected to be at the centre of the outbreak. It was identified by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Jan 1, 2020, reported The Straits Times, and shut down and disinfected.

Leo Poon, a virologist at the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong, who first decoded the virus, according to a CNN report, thinks it likely started in an animal and spread to humans. 

However, CNA reported some patients diagnosed deny exposure to this market.

“Now we can say it is certain that it is a human-to-human transmission phenomenon,” said Zhong Nanshan, the scientist the Chinese government has appointed to lead the effort to battle the disease, in a Business Insider US report. Zhong Nanshan is known as the scientist involved in exposing the scale of the SARS outbreak.

What are the symptoms of the virus?

Wuhan virus
Fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties are common signs of infection.
Credit: 123rf

The WHO says the common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

If you experience any of these, do not panic. Visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

What travel precautions should you take for the virus?

Airport screening
Changi Airport has implemented more temperature screenings especially for all inbound flights from China.
Credit: The Straits Times

Media reports have been pointing to fears of the world’s largest annual migration that happens in China for, namely, the Lunar New Year, is not going to help curb the spread of this virus but Chinese authorities have stepped up monitoring and disinfection efforts. They have even locked down some cities as well as tourist sites.

However, crowds and travel are some things we cannot always fully avoid anywhere in the world. There is currently no cure nor vaccine for the coronavirus. Prevention is always key for any infection.

The WHO says standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include what we should already be doing – hand washing (for at least 20 seconds), covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

MOH advises travellers to avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan and to exercise caution and attention to personal hygiene when travelling to the rest of China. Travellers should also avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds, wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose, and seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell.

All travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks when they return to Singapore. If you feel unwell, see your doctor immediately and inform them of your travel history. Wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of the visit if you have a fever or respiratory symptoms.

Singapore has also stepped up efforts to tackle the virus with precautionary measures. Changi Airport has implemented more temperature screenings especially for all inbound flights from China. Doctors and healthcare workers have been given guidance on the management of suspect cases. Once a case is confirmed, contact tracing will be initiated, and MOH and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases will implement strict isolation, quarantine, and infection control and prevention measures to avoid further transmission. 

Stay safe, stay informed and be smart about your hygiene, health and movements.