New Coronavirus – is it an epidemic?

A newly discovered strain of coronavirus, originating from Wuhan, China, has been making headlines around the world. As of January 24, 2019, it has caused panic and an unprecedented lockdown of 30 million people in China. But just what is a coronavirus? What makes this one so special? What do we need to do in Canada and the USA to prepare for an outbreak?

Coronaviruses are a common class of viruses that can be responsible for common diseases such as the cold. Traditional signs and symptoms of coronavirus infection include cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms. Coronavirus can sometimes lead to viral pneumonia which is associated with acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death. Coronavirus has garnered international attention in the last decades as it was the coronavirus that caused SARS (which had a 10% mortality rate) and MERS (which had 37% mortality rate). This time, the new 2019-nCoV (this new coronavirus doesn’t have a fancy name yet) is causing international concern as it’s repeating many similar trends that SARS infection did back in 2003.

The new 2019 Wuhan coronavirus is associated with high ICU admission and high mortality. It causes severe respiratory syndrome but we still do not understand how it is transmitted, the duration of transmission, and the spectrum of symptoms that it can cause. A study of the original 41 2019 n-CoV patients showed that they most commonly had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Within 7 days, these patients needed to be hospitalized and by 10 days, they were in the ICU. By January 2, 2020, 41 people in Wuhan China had been admitted to the hospital and had confirmed diagnosis of 2019-nCoV infection. There was not, and still is not, a recommended therapy for 2019-nCoV infections. Doctors tried some medication that was useful for SARS infections and gave some patients systemic corticosteroids. Of these 41 people, 6 died

A death rate of 4/41 (15%) is extremely concerning. To put it in perspective, the death rate of pneumonia for people 70 and older is approximate 0.26%. There isn’t a vaccine that can slow the spread of this disease. China is currently placing 30 million people on lockdown in order to try to contain the virus but, even so, there are new cases being reported globally including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, the USA, South Korean, Nepal, and France. Based on current information, it may take an infected patient 7-14 days to show any symptoms. During this time, they are shedding the virus and can potentially infect other people around them. 

The World Health Organization is in holding ongoing meetings to see whether or not the current situation should be declared a global emergency. Health authorities in Canada and USA have both declared that they are ampally prepared for a global outbreak and there is no need for concern. Canadian pharmacy associations and physician associations do not have a statement on the current happenings. Local Vancouver pharmacies are reporting a shortage of flu masks and hand sanitizer.

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