From time to time, new forms of previous virus emerge and create terror among human beings.  Such is the case of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was first identified by Chinese health authorities.  The virus is associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province.  

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  “Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people.”

Such as has been seen with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).  SARS, first recognized in China, caused a worldwide outbreak in 2002-2003 with 8,098 probable cases including 774 deaths.  MERS, on the other hand, was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since caused illness in people from dozens of other countries.

It all started before Christmas celebration.  On December 31, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause.  By January 5, SARS and MERS were ruled out as the cause.  Four days later, preliminary investigation showed that it was a new type of coronavirus.

From China, 2019-nCoV spread to Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Now, here are some information on 2019-nCoV, as shared by Dr. Edsel Salvana in his Facebook.  He is the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines Manila.  Also, he is a clinical associate professor and research coordinator at the Section of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine at the Philippine General Hospital.

“Putting this together because there is so much misinformation going around in the Philippines on 2019-nCoV,” Dr. Salvana wrote.  “Please continue to check that the current info is accurate as things change quickly.”

1. Only the Department of Health (DOH) is confirming or clearing cases. All other assertions are fake news. Persons under investigation (PUIs) are not confirmed cases, they are people with symptoms who may have been exposed. As of this writing, more than 30 PUIs have been cleared as they tested negative for the virus. 

2. Wearing a mask for the general public who do not have symptoms is optional. If you have colds or a cough, then do wear a surgical mask so you do not transmit your cough or cold to other people. If you have been to China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the last 14 days, please contact health authorities for instructions.

3. The correct mask to wear for the general public is a surgical mask. Colored side always out. N95 masks should not be used by the general public since these are reserved for doctors and need to be specially fitted and are very uncomfortable. Cloth masks do not filter droplets well and can give a false sense of security.

4. Assertions that we are protected from 2019-nCoV because of our warm climate are fake. Many countries with warm climates already have cases. The transmission is most likely via droplet transmission through close contact. This means that the risk is limited to within 6 feet from a person who sneezes or coughs. 

The virus does not last very long outside the human body but if you inhale the droplets or it lands on mucous membranes like the eyes or inside your mouth, you can get infected. It can persist for a few hours on environmental surfaces, including on the surface of clothing and masks and so always wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes or putting your fingers in your mouth or nostrils.

5. Reports of using HIV drugs for 2019-nCoV are anecdotal, meaning it has been used on a few cases, some of whom have recovered. There is no definitive proof that these work (the patients may have recovered anyway) but is under intense study by scientists. Please do not take any HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) meds without advice from your doctor. Only specific classes of HIV meds may have activity so do not experiment. 2019-nCoV also does not make HIV tests positive if you do not have HIV.

6. The World Health Organization (WHO) is aware that there is likely asymptomatic (no symptoms) transmission but this is likely in a minority of cases. This is an area of intense investigation so continue to monitor and follow instructions on the latest recommendations for protecting yourself.

7. Please stop asking DOH for details on PUIs. These are protected by the privacy act and there are security concerns. Info is released on a need to know basis. If you just want it for general tsismis (gossip), go watch Netflix instead.

“In these times of public health emergency,” Dr. Salvana urged, “let’s do our part in helping our government protect us. Whether or not you like the government, they have a job to do and the only alternative is to panic and run around in circles – which solves nothing. 

“Our frontline healthcare workers are in harm’s way so let’s support them by following instructions, not sharing or making fake news, and praying for their safety,” the doctor added.