SINGAPORE — As of Friday (24 January) morning, the Wuhan coronavirus – or 2019-nCoV – has spread to at least 13 countries and territories outside of mainland China, where over 800 people have been infected and 41 have died.
Amid growing concerns, Yahoo News Singapore spoke to medical experts here for more information and advice on how to protect oneself against infection.
Wearing masks: N95 or others?
While many of us may have picked up N95 masks during last September’s haze, they may not necessarily be the most practical form of protection as they are less comfortable to wear in the long run.
“Properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks. However, surgical masks are more practical and recommended by the (Ministry of Health) for the general public to use as they can block large-particle droplets and splatter from reaching the wearer's mouth and nose,” said Dr Edwin Chng, the medical director of Parkway Shenton.
He explained that users should avoid touching the masks after putting them on and should take care to properly dispose of them once they are removed.
“A surgical mask should be discarded after use and under no circumstances should it be used for longer than a day. Replace the mask immediately if it is damaged or soiled,” Dr Chng added.
Watch our video on how to use and dispose of surgical masks:
Wash your hands
Another method to avoid contracting viruses is to wash your hands frequently.
“Theoretically, in an area with a lot of transmission, everyone (should) consistently wear masks and wash hands (for a period of) 14 days. This will break the cycle totally,” said infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam of the Rophi Clinic.
“This is simple personal hygiene that saves lives and prevents illness,” he added.
Dr Leong noted that Betadine gargles have been shown to kill coronaviruses and, thus, the Wuhan virus as well. The product has also been shown to “reduce colds by gargling three times a day”, he said.
What and where to avoid
To reduce the risk of infection, people should avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan and stay away from those who are suffering from acute respiratory infections, said Dr Michael Wong, a senior family physician at Raffles Medical.
People should also avoid contact with farm or wild animals, and avoid eating raw or uncooked meat, he added.
Should I get the flu jab?
Two of the doctors Yahoo News Singapore spoke to said that while getting a flu vaccination will not protect you from the Wuhan virus, it can still help in a number of ways.
For those who are travelling, a flu vaccination can help protect you from influenza, which has symptoms and signs that may “mislead screening authorities at temperature checkpoints, and result in unnecessary anxiety and delays to your travel”, said Dr Wong.
Dr Leong, who also recommended the vaccine, said, “It won't protect you against Wuhan. But you don't want to be caught with an upper tract infection when the Wuhan virus eventually lands.”
What is the Wuhan coronavirus?
The Wuhan coronavirus – or 2019-nCoV – is a new type of coronavirus that was discovered after Chinese authorities began investigating a cluster of mysterious pneumonia cases that were reported in Wuhan in Hubei.
Coronaviruses cause a variety of illnesses ranging from the common cold to “more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)”, said Dr Wong.
Such viruses usually circulate in animals such as bats, but can evolve to infect humans and spread among people. “According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only seven, including the new virus, are known to infect people,” he added.
In the case of 2019-nCoV, it has been postulated that two types of snakes – the Chinese krait and Chinese cobra – could be the original source of the viruses. With snakes having been sold at a local seafood market in Wuhan, this increases the likelihood that the virus might have jumped from bats to snakes, and finally to humans, at the start of the outbreak.
Dr Leong noted that, based on reports from China, the virus is like SARS “but milder”. Noting that “everyone is at risk”, he added, “Based on SARS... The kids do better. We hope it plays out that way.”
“The only at-risk (group) is the elderly. Some healthy individuals will succumb because of an inappropriate response of the body to the infection,” he said.