Six things to know about coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Red Rock Coulee (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Red Rock Coulee (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Coronavirus disease is in the news. It is causing anxiety in the general population.

We know quite a bit about the virus and how it affects us. But there is a lot we do not know. I have gathered some information and summarized it here. Health Canada has lots of information on this subject on their website.

1. What is coronavirus disease?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

COVID-19 is a new disease that has not been previously identified in humans, says Health Canada website.

When there was an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China determined that a novel coronavirus (referred to as COVID-19) is responsible for the outbreak.

Health Canada says, “Authorities in China and worldwide are conducting further investigations to better understand where the disease came from, how it is spread and the clinical severity of illness in humans.”

WHO recently announced official names for the virus and the illness. The illness has been named as COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”). As you can see COVID is an abbreviation of coronavirus disease. The virus which causes this illness is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).

2. Why is it spreading so fast?

The coronavirus is a respiratory virus. It is spread in a similar way to the common cold or to influenza. It has spread from China to at least 40 other countries around the world, affecting stock markets and disrupting travel. Not one person of 117 who have been tested for COVID-19 in Alberta are sick with this virus.

This new virus appears to be spreading from person to person. It may be spread by respiratory droplets when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. But it’s unclear exactly how it spreads or how contagious it is, and research is ongoing.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent the COVID-19 illness.

3. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Signs and symptoms can be mild to severe and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

You may not know you have symptoms of COVID-19 because they are similar to a cold or flu.

If you have fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia then you need to see a doctor. In severe cases, infection can lead to death.

4. What are the risks of getting COVID-19 for Canadians? How can you prevent it?

According to Health Canada the public health risk associated with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, is low for Canada and for Canadian travellers.

Canada has no direct flights from Wuhan and the volume of travellers arriving indirectly from Wuhan is low. However, at this time, the Government of Canada recommends that Canadians avoid non-essential travel to China.

You try to prevent COVID-19 infection same as you try to prevent common cold and flu: wash your hands frequently; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with people who are sick; coughing or sneezing into your sleeve and not your hands; and staying home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others.

5. Is there a vaccine to protect against COVID-19?

No, but it is a work in progress. The flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19.

6. What is the treatment for COVID-19?

For now, there is no specific treatments for most people with COVID-19. Most people with common coronavirus illness will recover on their own. If you have any symptoms described earlier then contact your doctor.

I hope this information helps. Stay healthy.

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What can I write about SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that has not been reported already in the media?

From my research, I found that SARS has been reported to WHO since 1999 – but it did not make big headlines until earlier this year when several countries were affected.

WHO website says that on February 13th, 1999 an outbreak of an unidentified disease was reported to have occurred in Darwaz, Badakhshan, Afghanistan.

The outbreak began after two young men returned from the village of Waram, both suffering from an acute respiratory infection. Over the next two days, approximately 40 persons living in the same household became ill.

The disease then spread through the whole village, affecting 70-80 per cent of households. The village has a population of 5400. The deaths occurred among both males and females and involved primarily infants and the elderly.

The disease was described to be flu-like and is characterized by abrupt onset of fever, headaches and muscle pain, followed by chest pain and cough. Living and sanitary conditions were crowded, and the water supply was unprotected. Nutrition was of poor quality.

WHO website does not mention any SARS cases in 2000 and 2001. Between April and December of 2002, SARS was reported from Greece, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On February 11th, 2003 WHO announced that it had received reports from the Chinese Ministry of Health of an outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome with 300 cases and 5 deaths in Guangdong Province.

On March 12th, 2003 WHO issued a global alert about cases of atypical pneumonia. The announcement said that since mid-February, WHO had been actively working to confirm reports of outbreaks of a severe form of pneumonia in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, and Guangdong province in China.

On March 15th, 2003 WHO issued emergency travel advisory. It went on to say, “During the past week, WHO has received reports of more than 150 new suspected cases of SARS, an atypical pneumonia for which cause has not yet been determined. Reports to date have been received from Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.”

On March 26th, 2003 WHO stated that 1323 cases of SARS had been reported from 12 countries and that 49 people had died.

As of Tuesday, April 29th, 2003 a cumulative total of 5462 probable cases of SARS with 353 deaths have been reported from 27 countries. Except for China, most countries have been able to control the spread of this deadly disease. By the time you read this column, we hope there will be even better news.

But we should continue to be vigilant. Things to remember about SARS:

1. If you have flu like symptoms, with fever of more than 38 degrees Celsius, then report to your doctor. Currently, there is no laboratory test to confirm the diagnoses.

2. The cause of SARS is not certain, there is a strong indication that it is linked to the coronavirus, with the possibility that other factors also contribute.

3. The primary way that SARS appears to spread is by close person-to-person contact. Most cases of SARS have involved people who cared for or lived with someone with SARS, or had direct contact with infectious material (for example, respiratory secretions) from a person who has SARS.

4. The incubation period for SARS is typically two to seven days; however, isolated reports have suggested an incubation period as long as 10 days. . The first cases of SARS identified in Canada are people who had traveled to Hong Kong. Subsequent cases have been in their close contacts and travelers to Asia.

5. Practicing good personal hygiene is a key to stopping the spread of this disease. Thorough hand-washing with a disinfectant or using hot, soapy water and lathering for at least 20 seconds. This is because disease-causing micro-organisms can frequently be found on the hands.

6. Masks are not recommended for use by the general public. The only exception would be a person having come into close contact with a SARS-affected individual.

7. Where can you find up-to-date information on SARS?
Health Canada Web site: and World Health Organization’s web site for current figures: Information for the public: 1-800-454-8302.

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