Despite numerous advances in medical science, often a new condition or disease arises that has the capacity to befuddle us and take us to the edge of a crisis. In the past few decades, we have had SARS, H1N1, Zika, Ebola and other viruses that created havoc across borders and geographies.
Coronavirus is a group of viruses that infect the respiratory system. There are seven strains of coronavirus that have been identified, the most recent being Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCOV), which originated in China. The first infected case of 2019-nCOV was in December 2019, and global medical authorities are investigating the origin of the disease.
Thus far, it is confirmed that the human-to-human transmission is possible and highly contagious. Nearly 5,000 cases have been identified across the world, with the majority of them in China, which is the epicentre of the outbreak. The symptoms of 2019-nCOV are similar to a flu with cough, cold and fatigue. However, chest X-rays reveal abnormalities and blood tests show a low white blood cell count.
The current technology used for testing the virus is called RT-PCR technique (real-time PCR). It is done on respiratory and serum samples. The National Institute of Virology, Pune, is the only currently approved centre for testing for this virus. Thermal scanners installed in airports can help identify travellers with fever and hence aid in screening.
It’s important to call the health facility and inform them that one is approaching the hospital for symptoms suggestive of Corona virus, so that the hospital facility can take certain measures to prevent transmission to other patients/ faculty at the hospital. In Bengaluru, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Chest Diseases has allotted a 12-bed ward for the isolation of patients who are probably infected with coronavirus. Many hospitals are also looking to create special wards for care of suspected cases while decreasing the risk of transmission to others.
SCENARIO IN INDIA
Thus far, there have been no confirmed cases of 2019-nCOV in India. However, three people have been quarantined and kept under observation in Delhi on suspicion on infection. The Ministry of Health in India has activated labs in Bengaluru, Alleppy, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai for testing samples. The government has also issued various guidelines to deal with the situation, including an in-country surveillance programme and contact tracing through Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), NCDC.
PREVENTION AND CARE
There are currently no cures or vaccines against 2019-nCOV. However, there are a few steps that can be taken to avoid infections.
Wear facemasks at all times
Avoid crowded places
Cover your nose around someone who is sneezing
Wash your hand frequently
If you think you have been infected, you should seek treatment from the nearest medical centre and run all the required tests as per protocol.
(The author is consultant physician, expertise in travel medicine and infectious disease, SPARSH Hospitals)