From The Straits Times    |
Health Q&A for Wuhan virus

Credit: 123rf

Q: How might the Wuhan virus spread between people?

A: The Wuhan coronavirus is understood to spread much like the common flu does – through the air when an infected person coughs, through close contact such as shaking hands with an infected person, or touching an object which has the virus on it before touching one’s mouth and eyes.

For now, virologists say the Wuhan coronavirus is likely not as infectious as the Sars virus. But there are concerns that the Wuhan virus’ current reported 2 per cent death rate – where two out of 100 infected people die – is not representative, and that the virus could further mutate to become more lethal.

There are worries that the number of infections is under-reported, with many brushing off symptoms as those of the common flu.

Q: How is the Wuhan virus different from the Sars virus?

A: It is a different strain and, for now, has reported a lower fatality rate than the Sars virus.

The World Health Organisation estimates the overall fatality rate for Sars patients to be between 14 per cent and 15 per cent, while that for Wuhan is currently at 2 per cent.

Researchers have said that the Wuhan virus shares only 76 per cent of its genetic material with the Sars virus – a big difference in genetic terms, much like “comparing a dog and a cat”.

There is, however, speculation that both viruses originated from bats. Recent reports have also suggested that the Wuhan virus might be linked to snakes too.

Q: Should I panic?

A: No, said Professor Paul Tambyah of the Department of Medicine at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Instead, we should be concerned.

He said there are measures in place to control the outbreak here and elsewhere. The public should be concerned and thus be vigilant about maintaining good hand hygiene, seeking medical attention if unwell and staying home, he said.

Q: Should I wear a mask?

A: Wear a surgical mask when you have a cold or flu.

Some doctors have been wearing surgical masks as a precautionary measure at work, so some people have wondered if they should dig out their N95 masks too.

But there is no need to, said Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Instead, they should wear surgical ones.

“N95 masks are… very difficult to breathe in. If you find the N95 mask easy to breathe in and comfortable, you are wearing it wrongly and it is no use,” she said, adding that these masks are not recommended for the public.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said everyone with respiratory symptoms must wear masks, now that there is human-to-human transmission for the Wuhan virus.

Q: Can I still visit China?

A: The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday said Singaporeans should avoid travelling to Wuhan.

The ministry said it updated the travel advisory “in view of the developing novel coronavirus situation in Wuhan and other parts of China”, with confirmed cases spreading beyond Wuhan to Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangdong, which abuts densely populated Hong Kong.

The ministry also reminded the public to continue to exercise caution and pay attention to personal hygiene when travelling to the rest of China.

MOH said all travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, and also inform their doctor of their travel history.

If they have a fever or respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose, they should wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of the visit.

Q: Should I be worried about tourists coming into Singapore?

A: Singapore is stepping up precautionary measures.

The expanded measures include temperature screening for all travellers arriving from China – not just Wuhan alone – at Changi Airport, and issuing health advisory notices to them.

Q: Should I get a flu jab?

A: A flu vaccine will not help protect you against the Wuhan coronavirus. There is no vaccine to protect against coronaviruses.

However, according to an advisory from Raffles Medical, you should still get a flu jab if you are travelling to places where there are suspected cases to prevent you from contracting influenza symptoms that may mislead the screening authorities at temperature checkpoints.

There is also no specific treatment to cure illnesses caused by human coronaviruses, including pneumonia caused by the Wuhan virus.

Patients typically recover on their own after some time.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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