Things for people in Canada to know about the novel coronavirus

Canada has four confirmed cases of the new coronavirus that has infected almost 10,000 people globally in the last two months. While the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency, Canadian public health officials say the risk of contracting the illness in this country remains low.

Nevertheless, experts stress the need to be vigilant and prepared for signs of infection. Here are key things to know:

WHAT IS IT?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that most often cause mild-to-moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses including the common cold, but they can also lead to severe conditions. Some coronaviruses spread between animals, some pass between animals and people, and others are transmitted between humans.

This new virus is different from the coronaviruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

SARS AND MERS SEEMED TO BE EASILY TRANSMITTED. IS THAT TRUE OF THIS VIRUS TOO?

Several medical experts say early research indicates the new coronavirus is less deadly or contagious than other airborne illnesses.

Canada’s chief public health officer has repeatedly stressed it is unlikely to be transmitted through casual contact and will most likely only be contracted by people with close, prolonged contact with an infected person.

WHAT ARE COMMON SYMPTOMS?

This new virus has non-specific symptoms including fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Typically, coronavirus infections manifest as the common cold. Symptoms can include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. Young babies may contract gastrointestinal disease. Severe cases involve pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said the risk of spreading the infection only arises once symptoms appear.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SUSPECT INFECTION?

Consult your health care provider as soon as possible if you are worried about symptoms or have travelled to a region where severe coronaviruses are known to occur.

If you have mild cold-like symptoms, health officials encourage you to stay home while sick and avoid close contact to help protect others. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and be sure to throw used tissues in the trash and wash your hands. Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

HOW ABOUT FACE MASKS? WOULD THOSE HELP PROTECT ME?

No. Numerous doctors say wearing face masks can be useful in preventing the spread of coronavirus if worn by someone who’s already infected, but say they offer limited value to those who are healthy. They say washing hands regularly offers better protection, noting that such a step is recommended irrespective of coronavirus since flu season is in full swing.

WHERE DO I LOOK FOR RELIABLE INFORMATION?

Health officials caution people against posting or spreading misinformation about the new coronavirus on social media. They direct those looking for reliable information to Health Canada’s website, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus https: or the sites of the provincial health agencies, which are updated daily.

Social media companies including Facebook are working to remove false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by global and local health authorities.

If you are unsure about whether to trust information you find online, the organization News Media Canada suggests asking these four questions: Is it a credible source? Is the perspective biased? Are other sources reporting the same story? Is the story timely?

— Sources: Health Canada, Public Health Ontario, World Health Organization, News Media Canada, various public statements and interviews

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2020.

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