By Alison Chang

2019 Novel Coronavirus

The facts and how you can protect yourself from it

In December 2019, there was a sudden abundance of phenomena cases originating in Wuhan, China. Further investigations discovered that it was caused by a novel virus now named the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (also referred to as coronavirus or COVID-19).  Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has spread and now been deemed a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. As of February 26th, there are 40 confirmed cases of the Novel Coronavirus in Thailand. 8 have recovered and have been discharged while the other 31 are recovering in the hospital (albeit these numbers constantly change so these may be incorrect by the time that you are reading it). But how was it able to spread so far so fast? And how can you protect yourself from it?

What it is

Coronavirus is a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds.  When in humans, it causes respiratory infections, like a common cold, that are typically mild.  However, there are rarer forms of Coronavirus like SARS, MERS, and this one, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus that can be lethal. These viruses are called Zoonotic viral disease, meaning that they transfer from an animal to a human.  Coronavirus gets its name from the Latin term Corona, which means crown. This refers to the appearance of the virus particles (virions) that have a fringe that resembles a crown. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus has a ~70% genetic similarity to SARS and a 96% similarity to Bat Coronavirus, which is the main suspect for the origin of the virus.  The reason why the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is so dangerous is that it is a single strand RNA virus, which means that it can mutate quickly, so antibiotics used now could be useless in the future. Another reason is that the virus has an abnormally long incubation period, around fourteen days. That means after infection it could take fourteen days for the symptoms to begin to show.  

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How it started

There are many speculations on how the virus was able to transmit to humans, one of the more popular ones being that it comes from the consumption of bat soup.  A clip of a young Chinese woman eating bat soup went viral, and many media outlets claimed that it was the origin of the virus. However, after some research, it was quickly debunked. In fact, the clip wasn’t even from China, but from the island nation of Palau in the Pacific Ocean. It was later discovered that the consumption of bats was considered a delicacy there, not in China.

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However, the idea that bats are the origin of the virus isn’t that far fetched as it seems. There are a plethora of bat-borne viruses that have infected humans, including SARS and the Ebola virus. Another possible candidate is snakes, which are in fact a delicacy in China. Researchers analyzed the protein codes favored by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, and they found that the protein codes in the virus are most similar to the ones found in snakes. Snakes are one of bats main predators in the wild, so there is some speculation that the virus transferred hosts, from bat to snake and now, humans. However, how the virus was able to transfer from a cold-blooded animal to a warm-blooded animal still remains a mystery. As of now, researchers are still trying to identify the main culprit for the origin of the virus.

How to keep yourself safe 

When dealing in situations such as this, the best thing to do is use your common sense. Most of the people who have died from the 2019 Novel Coronavirus are either senior citizens or people with medical conditions. Most people at Bangkok Patana do not fit this profile, so most students should not be concerned about the risk of dying. However, many people have greatly overreacted to the situation, hoarding masks and resources. This has led to Thailand banning the export of medical masks and supermarkets in many countries being stripped bare.   

 

Here's a tip on how to assess if you need to wear a mask or any other protection.  Ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Are you in close proximity to an infected person?

  2. Are you in an area with many confirmed cases?

  3. Are you sick yourself?

 

If the answer is no all three then you probably don’t need a mask. But why don’t you need a mask in these situations? As of now, there is very little evidence to support that masks decrease the chances of infection. In fact, it might actually increase the chances of being infected, it would allow viruses to be transferred among it and if it becomes moist it would encourage the growth of bacteria and other organisms. Hoarding also prevents the people that need masks from getting them. Here are some things that you can do that are more effective than using a mask:

 

  • Wash your hands frequently (Before meals, after exiting the restroom, etc.) and thoroughly

  • Stay home if you’re sick

  • Avoid going to areas or countries that have a high contamination risk

  • Don’t panic. If you are healthy and are in an age range where none have died from the virus there is very little to fear.

  • Avoid going out in public areas if you are sick.

  • Trust reliable news sources. You probably shouldn't be relying on information from sources that has had a history of spreading rumors 

 

Another thing that you should consider is your travel history. If you have visited any countries that are at a high-risk, then you should be staying home for the two weeks self-quarantine. Don’t go outside that much during that time period. There is a risk that you could be a super spreader and that could escalate the situation. If you are feeling unwell during that quarantine time period then go see your doctor immediately. If they ask you about your travel history do not lie. 

 

Things like this can be frightening. It’s understandable why people would panic, but currently it seems pretty overblown compared to the actual situation. The outbreak has led to some people making racist statements, particularly about Chinese people. As students of an international school, we should know better than most that racism has no place in current society. We should be discouraging xenophobic behavior, both online and offline. The best thing to do now is to stay clean and calm. Many people have already been cured, and if you remain level-headed and practice good hygiene, then the odds will be in your favor.