Some good and bad news on nCoV

February 05, 2020

While there are many unknowns about the novel coronavirus (nCoV), one thing is quite clear: the flu-like pathogen still shows no signs of slowing down.

As of Feb. 5, the number of confirmed nCoV cases in China where it originated, including two dozen countries where it spread, has reached 24,553 – an increase of almost 4,000 cases from the previous day. And the latest death toll, based on data provided by China’s National Health Commission, stands at 492.

While the unabated and rapid rise of confirmed cases undoubtedly continues to sow fear and panic, the situation has also led to a profound sense of urgency among international scientists to do everything possible to come up with effective treatment, especially since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“Researchers have successfully grown the virus in a lab, an important step towards developing a vaccine – but it could be a year or more until it's available,” a CNN report said. The fact that there is no cure yet and that it would take some time before effective treatment is discovered is really bad news.

But the good news is that so far, the new virus doesn’t seem to be as deadly as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that hit in 2003. Health experts estimate that the nCoV has a mere 3.5 percent mortality rate, much lower compared to the SARS fatality ratio of 14 to 15 percent.

Yet the lightning speed in which nCoV can spread, with cases spiking more than tenfold in a week’s time, is still bad news. Many find alarming that there are already more than 24,000 confirmed nCoV cases in such a short period. The SARS outbreak was vastly different – there were 8,098 confirmed cases of SARS from November 2002 to July 2003, with 774 deaths.

Amid the prevailing fear of the unknown, CNN has gathered from health experts some information that could be helpful in understanding the nCoV:

* What are the symptoms? Coronavirus symptoms can look like the flu -- fever, cough, trouble breathing. If you show these symptoms and recently went to China, or have been in contact with someone who visited, go to the doctor. (However, the new virus is worrisome due to claims that symptoms might not appear in some people carrying it.)

* How does the virus spread? The virus is thought to spread from person to person through respiratory droplets emitted by coughing or sneezing – but it's not clear exactly when a person becomes contagious. There's currently no evidence that the virus is airborne.

* Who is at risk of infection? People of all ages can be infected with the virus, but older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are especially vulnerable to severe complications.

* How can I protect myself? Take the same precautionary measures you would during flu season. Wash your hands often with soap and water, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, avoid close contact with people or large gatherings.

And there’s also good advice from Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who warns against eating exotic animals like snakes and lizards. Yet if one really likes to eat them, it must be cooked thoroughly. “Snakes and lizards are made into adobo, it’s delicious. I’ve tasted it but it was fully cooked,” Duque said. The coronavirus is sensitive to heat and will be neutralized at 53 degrees Centigrade, he said.

But he’s adamant against eating raw meat, particularly the “kilawin” many Filipinos love. “Rule number 1, never eat raw meat. There are a lot of illnesses that could stem from that. Eating kilawin should be stopped for now,” he said.