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The new China coronavirus


Should Ugandans be worried about it?

| THE INDEPENDENT | On 31 December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia of unknown cause was reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.

On Jan.09 Chinese authorities reported in the media that the cause of this viral pneumonia was initially identified as a new type of coronavirus, which is different from any other human coronaviruses discovered so far.

The clinical signs and symptoms of the patients reported in this cluster are mainly fever, with a few patients having difficulty in breathing, and chest radiographs showing bilateral lung infiltrates.

Wuhan city, a city of 11 million people, is a major domestic and international transport hub and China was experiencing heavy movements of people travelling for the Chinese New Year which falls in the last week of January. The outbreak is all occurring during peak influenza season in China so there were some illnesses around that appeared similar to coronavirus. Some potentially were carrying the virus to new places, as the cases showed. The risk of cases being reported form elsewhere was high.

Initial information from preliminary investigations suggested no significant human-to-human transmission, and no infections among health care workers had occurred. More information was required to better understand the mode of transmission and clinical manifestation of this new virus. The source of this new virus is not yet known but some of the initial cases were operating dealers or vendors in Huanan Seafood Market.

Soon person-to-person spread started occurring, although it remained unclear how easily the virus spreads between people.

What started as a cluster of 27 people with pneumonia – with common symptoms including fever, dry cough, chest tightness and difficulty breathing – had spiraled to thousands of confirmed cases, including medical staff and hundreds had died. The cases span all 33 provinces in mainland China. Hubei was the most hit followed by Guangdong Province in the south. Guangdong Province is important to Uganda because its capital Guangzhou is a popular destination for traders from Kampala.

By Jan.26 there were no reported cases of the virus in Uganda but the Ministry of Health was stepping up screening on inbound travelers, especially Ugandans and foreigners from China.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, said health teams at the airport were screening for symptoms such as flu, cough, and fever, running nose, and breathing difficulty. She said the move was prompted by the high number of Ugandans and Chinese shuttling between the two countries for business, education, and other purposes.

The minister said Entebbe International Airport already had thermo scanners in place for purposes of screening for viral outbreaks such as Ebola but travelers now had to fill forms with questions specific about the coronavirus.

By this point more details about the novel coronavirus were emerging. Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

We already live among coronaviruses

Some Coronaviruses cause illness in people and others that circulate only among animals, including camels, cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people such as has been seen with MERS and SARS.

Four other human coronaviruses (HCoV-22E, HCoV-OC43, HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-HKU1) cause colds, flu-like illnesses and more severe respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Viral pneumonia is a combination of virus infection of the lungs and our body’s immune response to that damage.

When person-to-person spread has occurred with SARS and MERS, it is thought to have happened via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.

Spread of SARS and MERS between people has generally occurred between close contacts. Past MERS and SARS outbreaks have been complex, requiring comprehensive public health responses.

Preliminary information suggested that older adults and people with underlying health conditions could be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus.

By Jan.28, a number of countries, including the United States, that were actively screening incoming travelers from Wuhan, confirmed human infections with the virus. Immediate confirmation came from Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea, and Macau.  Others were Canada, France, Nepal, Cambodia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, and more. Cases were popping up everywhere.

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