Coronavirus has sent shockwaves through the international community, with British airways announcing that all flights will be suspended to and from mainland China.
The virus has caused more than 130 deaths and has spread across China and at least 16 other countries.
Health officials are on high-alert as fears of the virus spreading are growing, but to accurately assess the level of threat and devise an appropriate response, it is important to first establish how contagious the virus is.
Health officials in Germany have been chewing on this question in response to the first case being confirmed in the Starnberg area of Bavaria.
German authorities believe the risk of the virus spreading in the country remains low and the patient involved is isolated and at home.
The data may be patchy but according to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate published in the German publication Der Spiegel, there will be 1.4 to 2.5 newly infected people per sick individual.
By this estimate, the virus has a relatively low risk of spreading, ranking lower than SARS, the respiratory infection that belongs to the same family that broke out in 2003.
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Currently reported symptoms include fever, a cough, headache or difficulty breathing.
These symptoms usually only last for a short amount of time, and tend to improve after a week.
Cases of human coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, however.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.
How can I protect myself from the virus?
According to WHO’s standard recommendations, a key protective measure is to wash your hands with soap and running water when hands are visibly dirty.
If hands are not visibly dirty, frequently clean them by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
It recommends the following tips:
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough;
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider;
- When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;
- The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
How is the UK responding to the outbreak?
The UK government plans to fly 200 British citizens out from Wuhan, the centre of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Hundreds of British citizens being flown back to the UK from Wuhan on Thursday will be put in quarantine for two weeks.
Those returning from other parts of China will not be affected, but have been advised to “self-isolate” for 14 days.
British airways has released a statement in response to the suspension of all flights to and from mainland China: “We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority.”