1.  Are South Africans at risk locally? And how best can we keep ourselves safe from infection, particularly while travelling internationally? Dr. Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai has some advice.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, people should not be unduly alarmed by the coronavirus outbreak, particularly as no cases have been reported in South Africa as of 31 January, he says. However, he strongly recommends that everyone, especially those travelling internationally, take precautions, and that non-essential travel to China be postponed at this time. The majority of cases of the illness can be traced back to a travel history from the Chinese province where the outbreak originated, including cases in Thailand, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, India, Germany, France, and the USA.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Sufferers of the virus reported coughing, fever and breathing problems. The virus can result in respiratory difficulties and lead to pneumonia, sepsis and even organ failure in severe cases.

As is the case with other viral infections, antibiotics are not an effective means of treatment and it appears that people who are in poor health are at greatest risk of complications from the infection. WHO reports that the current estimates of the incubation period of the virus range from two to 10 days.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS

‘Those who have recently travelled, or are planning to travel, to international destinations such as the Far East, should be particularly vigilant. As in the case of other airborne infectious viruses such as influenza, avoiding contact with people showing symptoms and washing your hands frequently can go a long way towards protecting individuals from contracting an infection,’ advises Dr. Vincent.

The following simple precautions based on WHO recommendations can help reduce exposure to and transmission of the virus:

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, towel drying them properly. An alcohol-based hand sanitiser can also be used.
  • Avoid close contact with others who have coughs, chest infections and/or fevers.
  • Avoid touching your face, mouth, and eyes with your hands.
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with farm or wild animals, particularly when visiting live markets in affected areas. Preferably avoid such markets.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to prevent potential cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
  • Although face masks do not provide complete protection from the infection from an airborne disease such as this, they may provide at least some additional defence against infection.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or a flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing.