5-11 April 2013 #650

Flu in from the Middle East

Coronaviruses are one among the many causes of the common cold and it's transmittable between humans
Dhanvantari by Buddha Basnyat, MD

Between April 2012 and March 2013, 17 people living in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, along with a few tourists were infected with a respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. Eleven of them succumbed to the virus. Among the dead was a British traveller who transmitted the virus to two of his family members in the UK. With millions of Nepali migrant labourers in the Middle East, the emergence of coronavirus raises a health alarm for our country too.

Coronaviruses are one among the many causes of common cold. Although this particular coronavirus is an independent entity (hence the term novel or new), this family of viruses was the source of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which caused a global epidemic in 2003. But SARS disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived. There have been no known SARS cases since 2004.

The new coronavirus seems deadlier than SARS since it has killed more than half the infected patients. However, we have to see this in proper context because there were 8,445 cases of SARS of which 790 died. Neither the World Health Organisation (WHO) nor the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has advised special screening at points of entry for this virus. There are no recommended travel or trade restrictions either.

While coronavirus is transmittable between humans, how efficiently it spreads will be vital in determining methods of control. For example, the dreaded ‘bird flu’ or avian influenza had very poor transmissibility among humans unlike SARS which spreads much more rapidly. For now we will have to wait and observe.

Meanwhile, Nepalis who work in the Middle East or those planning to visit need to take simple precautions that we use to prevent common flu. Washing hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser), avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick should be enough to hold off the coronavirus for now.

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