Coronavirus may be more infectious than SARS but is less virulent now: Dr K Srinath Reddy
Professor K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, throws lights on the coronavirus outbreak and the precautions one should take to keep away from contracting the virus.
The fears of a novel coronavirus epidemic are fast spreading. India at least has seen the first cases of patients who have been kept under observation for suspected infection.
At this time of rising alarm, The New Indian Express spoke to Professor K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India to gain clarity on the outbreak and to understand the precautions everyone should take.
1) What is 2019-nCov? How similar is it to SARS?
2019-nCoV is a virus that has been isolated from a new outbreak of respiratory infection that was first reported from the WUHAN province of China and has subsequently spread to other provinces of China and even to other countries in South-East and West Asia. While it belongs to the family of Corona viruses and is structurally similar to the SARS virus in that respect, it has a distinct genetic structure that is different from other coronaviruses which range in composition and severity from those causing common cold to SARS.
The threat of a virus outbreak is related to three factors:
- Its infectivity (ease of transmission)
- Virulence (severity of damage inflicted on the body) and
- Capacity for human to human spread
When the virus spreads by the aerial route from persons coughing, it has a faster spread than when it infects only through physical contact with secretions from an infected person. Some viruses (such as H1NI) are highly infective but have low virulence, while others (like H5N1) are highly virulent but have low infectivity.
When a virus is spread through the aerial route (droplet infection) from human to human it becomes highly infective, even if it began as an animal to human infection. This change portends danger of a mass epidemic. 2019-nCoV has clearly shown its capacity for rapid human to human spread by the aerial route. In terms of virulence, it appears intermediate at present, based on the numbers of deaths reported, but can mutate to a deadlier form.
2) What precautions should people take?
- Wash hands regularly
- Avoiding crowded areas (where droplet infections can easily spread are the needed precautions)
- Drink plenty of fluids (to keep well hydrated)
- Eat more fruits and vegetable-rich food to build resistance to respiratory viral infections (it reduces their severity even if infected)
- Have a good sleep
3) Are masks effective?
Masks have not been shown to be effective but can be worn in crowded areas, especially by persons who have a respiratory infection.
4) Will the threat from this virus dissipate sooner than the SARS scare considering the nature of the response?
This epidemic (now a pandemic) is still in an early stage. It may take longer time than SARS to dissipate because it appears to be more infectious but may be less dangerous because of lower virulence than SARS. Fingers crossed that it does not mutate to a more virulent form.