Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, wants to calm fears about the coronavirus, saying the risk to Albertans remains low. (Contributed photo).

Virus concerns cause spike in calls to AHS Health Link line

Misinterpretation, misinformation are not helping, says medical officer

A rising death toll from the new coronavirus is causing concerned calls to Alberta Health Link to spike.

According to official reports Tuesday, the Wuhan coronavirus has killed about 1,100 people and infected 45,000.

Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced a new name for the virus: COVID-19.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, believes a lot of alarmed Albertans are either misinterpreting information about the virus, or are believing misinformation.

There are also people who distrust official sources and believe the number of viral cases and the death count is being under reported.

Hinshaw believes this is possible — but not because governments are being secretive.

She said cases of the virus likely are being under reported because many people who suffered milder forms of the sickness never notified authorities.

“There always are some people who choose to believe an alternative story, but as chief medical officer of health, it is my job to provide information in a transparent way,” said Hinshaw, who maintains the risk to Albertans is low.

Although Canada has not closed its borders to all flights from China, planes have been grounded by the Chinese government in the most affected area around Wuhan, in Hubei province.

There’s a very small chance individuals from that area would arrive in Canada, said Hinshaw.

If they do, they are being asked to voluntarily “self-contain” for a couple of weeks. If symptoms show up, they are urged to inform health officials, who can put special protocols in place.

“If the novel coronavirus spreads more widely, we would take it seriously,” said Hinshaw. “We have plans to ensure that protocols are in place at Alberta hospitals and that the public would be protected.”

So far, health officials estimate that about 80 per cent of people who contracted the virus that’s thought to have spread to humans from bats, develop a mild sickness. They do not develop pneumonia, nor need health-care intervention, said Hinshaw.

Those who get severe viral pneumonia will require hospitalization. Hinshaw said they might need ventilators, or they might respond well to several drugs that are being tested.

Based on the reported number of viral cases and allowances for those who might have had the virus and not known it, the estimated deaths are either under two per cent or under one per cent, said Hinshaw. That is lower than the SARS death rate.

Although there are reports circulating about possible long-term lung effects from the virus, Hinshaw doesn’t know how this conclusion could be drawn, considering the new virus has only been around for five weeks.

Hinshaw encourages Albertans to not overreact, or make assumptions about people based on ethnicity.

“You can’t tell, looking at somebody, whether they have the virus.”

Anyone wanting to know the facts is urged to visit alberta.ca/coronavirus.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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