In light of the ongoing drama unfolding worldwide about the Novel Coronavirus and how it threatens the health of people, it is best perhaps to take a clear and unsentimental view of how pandemics work of which the said movie provides. Considering that as of the time this article is being written, the Philippines has confirmed its first known case of NCOV—a Chinese female tourist from the mainland, it is best perhaps to be knowledgeable about this deadly virus. Here are a few facts that Filipinos might find useful, if not comforting.
What’s in a name? First off, the virus that has been plaguing the Chinese mainland and several countries (the Philippines included) has been known by different names so far. Among its names include Wuhan Virus, Novel Coronavirus and lastly and officially 2019 n-CoV. This is important as to differentiate it with previous pandemics like SARS or (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) which are totally different and so far, are more lethal than the 2019 n-CoV in terms of fatalities—so far.
Where did it originate? Unfortunately, like most recent pandemics, the 2019 n-CoV also originated in China like SARS, in particular in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province in mainland China. Although the virus garnered prominence in late January 2020, recent investigations suggest that its date of origin was in 2019—around the first of December when the first suggested case was first reported.
What makes the virus different? 2019 n-CoV as its name suggest is a coronavirus. What does that mean? It means that it first existed in animals and was likely transmitted to humans through an infected animal. Considering that Wuhan is known for its trade in exotic meats, a market in Wuhan was likely deemed ground zero for the transmission of the virus. This has yet to be proven however. The virus is also called novel as the likely mode of transmission is from animal to humans who are in direct contact with them—hence, the belief that the market was the likely way of how the virus was able to spread. The original virus itself however cannot easily infect humans unless it mutates and is thus able to enter the human body causing symptoms.
What are the symptoms and how does it spread? Let’s be clear, the 2019 n-Cov is not the same virus as that which causes the common cold, although most people may think it is. Among its symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath. Nonetheless, like the cold and the flu is it spread through airborne particles, surface particles and perhaps even close contact with other humans as to human-to-human transmissions have now been reported in Germany and Thailand—so far the hardest hit Southeast Asian country with 19 confirmed cases of 2019 n-CoV as of this writing.
However, a lot has yet to be ascertained about the virus. These include the length of time before infection becomes pronounced. At present, about 14 days has been suggested, but this has yet to be confirmed. Of more interest and concern though is the asymptomatic nature of the virus in some individuals as it has yet to be determined if asymptomatic individuals, or those showing no symptoms, can transmit the virus, during the said symptom-less phase.
How has the Philippines fared and is the country in case of a pandemic? Until the third week of January, the Philippines fared better than most mainland Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand etc. who all reported confirmed cases of 2019 n-CoV. It was only until January 29 that the country reported its first confirmed case in a 38-year old female Chinese fatality. As of this writing, no new confirmed fatal cases have been reported, although a Chines couple (male and female) are being monitored, with an unconfirmed 57 individuals being monitored.
But is the Philippines prepared for a possible increase in cases in a full-blown pandemic? At present, the Philippine government and the Department of Health have now implemented several strategies to contain the spread of 2019 n-Cov in the country. A travel ban has since been imposed on travelers from Hubei province of which Wuhan is the capital. Suspected cases are also being monitored in the Infectious Disease ward of San Lazaro hospital. At the same time, the tracking of individuals who were in contact with the first confirmed known fatality in the country. Local government units have also implemented local travel restrictions for tourist hailing from Wuhan in order to prevent the spread of the virus. However, a fully coordinated health plan aimed at 2019 n-CoV has yet to be announced.
What can Filipinos do and should be mindful of. Perhaps, at the risk of being hermits, Filipinos should forego going out unless necessary to avoid possible infection and exposure to the virus. Being alert about the current clime, without being panic-stricken and unreasonable should also be the norm. Lastly, avoid misinformation—even fake news as information can be a first line of defense especially in curbing conduct that can lead to exposure and infection and social disruption (i.e. uncalled for panic in communities). Always remember to read updates only from reputable sources like the World Health Organization, the Philippine Department of Health and reputable foreign agencies. Likewise, remember that information about the disease can change immediately and as such better be alert about updates as what we believe about the virus now (e.g. mode of transmission, length of possible infection) can change in a matter of minutes. Forewarned is forearmed.
As of February 1, 2020; the 2019 n-CoV has 11,700 confirmed cases in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Europe and North America; with 259 confirmed fatalities