Two cases of the new deadly strain of coronavirus have been identified in Ontario, with a third reported Tuesday in British Columbia. But how much of a threat does the new virus pose to Canadians?
The World Health Organization has stopped short of calling it a global health emergency, while officials here have said Canadians are at low risk of contracting the illness.
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 diseases. 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.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has repeatedly stressed that the new coronavirus is unlikely to be transmitted through casual contact and will most likely only be contracted by people with close, prolonged contact with an infected patient.
In Ontario, the two cases identified so far involve a married couple from Toronto. Officials in B.C., say the prospective coronavirus patient in that province does not appear to have transmitted the virus to his family members, who are under close observation.
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, Dr. David Williams, has said that people who are not showing symptoms of the virus are likely not contagious and the risk of spreading the infection only arises once symptoms start to appear. Two of the three Canadian cases reported so far have not required hospitalization.
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 patients who are currently 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.
I’VE BEEN TOLD TO SELF-ISOLATE. HOW DO I DO THAT?
The main way to reduce the risk of spreading illness while awaiting test results is to limit contact with others: stay home except to get medical care.
Try to remain in a different room from others and use a separate bathroom, if possible. Wear a face mask if others are in the room and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Immediately throw out the used tissue and wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items with others in the home.
Seek prompt medical attention if your condition worsens, but call ahead to let health-care workers know you have or are being assessed for novel coronavirus infection. If you go to hospital or a doctor’s office drive yourself or arrange for a ride — do not use public transportation.
— Sources: Health Canada, Public Health Ontario, World Health Organization, Toronto Public Health, various public statements and interviews
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.
The Canadian Press