New Delhi: Coronavirus is currently wreaking havoc in China, with 41 deaths recorded thus far and a further 1,300 affected. The virus has also spread to India, as well as Nepal. In India, the majority of those suspected to have contracted the virus are from Kerala; one person from the state who returned from Saudi Arabia has already tested positive for the same.

Special wards have been set up at various hospitals across the country, including at those in Delhi and Mumbai to deal with possible cases of coronavirus. But what exactly is this virus? What are its causes, symptoms, treatment etc.?

Dr Vinay Joshi, Consultant – Pediatrician, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Malad explains us here:

What is coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals and mainly circulate among animals and are rarely transmitted from animals to humans. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are types of coronaviruses. While in May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula, in 2003, 774 people died from a SARS outbreak.

The coronavirus, in general, is virtually indistinguishable from other respiratory infections. In mild cases, they cause runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue and fever. However, now, patients can experience high fever, difficulty in breathing and even pneumonia.

Signs and Symptoms: The patient may develop mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. The symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache and fever, which can last for a few days. For some patients-elderly and newborns-the virus could cause more serious, respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, fatigue and shortness of breath, respiratory distress and kidney failure.

In other words, the symptoms are similar to those of any general upper respiratory infection.

The current Wuhan coronavirus is currently thought to be milder and patients have experienced a mild cough for a week followed by shortness of breath. Between 15-20% of cases have become severe, requiring ventilation in the hospital.

How does the virus spread: Most coronaviruses spread the same way viruses normally do-through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person, or by touching things that infected people have touched. It can also spread through human contact with animals. Human-to-human transmission can also happen when one comes in contact with an infected person’s secretions, such as droplets in a cough.

Who is most affected: At present, going by Wuhan virus, immunocompromised patients, ie. elderly and children, look to be the most affected.

Treatment: While most symptoms typically disappear within a few days (indicating everything is fine), there is no specific treatment available. To start with, one should seek medical advice early. The symptoms can be controlled by pain or fever medication.  It is also beneficial to drink plenty of fluids, adequate rest and sleep as much as possible.

How to prevent it: Risk of infection can be reduced by staying away from those affected. Refrain from touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. If in China or travelling there, be sure to avoid live animal markets, which is where this outbreak began.

How to protect others: Stay at home if sick and avoid contact with others. While sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and then throw it in a dustbin and wash your hands. Remember to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

Coronavirus and pregnant women: The virus can be very dangerous for pregnant women but there are no reports thus far of them being infected with it.

Coronavirus and India: The government has issued a travel advisory for citizens visiting China, especially Wuhan. It was announced that passengers arriving from Wuhan to India would undergo thermal screening at airports; a facility which was later extended to six other airports. ‘Non-essential’ travel to China is to be avoided as is contact with those showing symptoms of the illness.