Health agencies around the world have begun to alert the public to a new concern – the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was first identified in humans in China's Hubei province.
Although the situation is fluid and advice may change based on emerging science and how widespread the current outbreak becomes, Canadian health authorities currently suggest that the risk is low that people will contract this disease unless they have recently travelled to Wuhan, Hubei. Those who have been in close contact with a person who has recently travelled to the area, especially if the person has become symptomatic, may also be at an elevated risk.
Although health officials are uncertain about the effects of coronavirus on vulnerable populations including, younger and older people and those with existing respiratory or immune problems, health officials are suggesting that they could have an acute reaction if exposed to the virus.
Symptoms of this viral infection include fever, cough and difficulty breathing (sometimes becoming pneumonia). Although some of these symptoms are also associated with the common influenza A and B viruses, the annual flu vaccine offers no protection against 2019 novel coronavirus and there is currently no vaccine to prevent it. The novel nature of this virus, which is part of the coronavirus family that includes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), means that most people will not have any natural immunity to it. However, to date, the mortality rate of 2019-nCoV is significantly less than either of those viruses.
Whether the 2019 novel coronavirus becomes a worldwide pandemic or is neutralized quickly and limited to a local outbreak, will likely depend on efforts to prevent human to human transmission outside of Hubei. It will also depend upon whether it mutates to become more virulent. As of January 29, 2020, there were more than 6,000 confirmed cases worldwide and 133 deaths. The vast majority of these cases (more than 98 per cent) were in mainland China, and all fatalities have thus far occurred in that country.
It is currently believed that the incubation period for the disease is up to 14 days. Health authorities are doubtful that an asymptomatic person can transmit the disease, but cannot rule it out.
There are some practical steps you can take to limit your risk of contracting this or other similar viral infections. These include:
- washing your hands with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands; and
- avoiding close contact with people who are sick
Other precautions such as wearing surgical face masks or self-isolating are not being advised unless you or a person with whom you are in close contact have recently travelled to Hubei and are feeling ill. These people are advised to limit contact with anyone other than health care providers and to contact health care centres in advance of presenting themselves, if possible, to alert them of an incoming suspected case.
Although news of this outbreak and the potential for widespread transmission is undoubtedly worrying, the quick steps taken by public health officials in China and elsewhere based on lessons from past outbreaks, the relatively low mortality rate compared to other recent novel viruses, and the limited number of person to person transmissions outside of mainland China (to date), suggest people should not be panicked.
At Gluckstein Lawyers, we've taken time to remind our colleagues about the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene practices (especially during cold and flu season), and we encourage you to do the same. Thorough handwashing, coughing or sneezing into your sleeve, wiping down commonly touched surfaces with disinfectants, and staying home if you're feeling ill, are all easy and effective steps to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.
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