Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.
Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread was subsequently reported outside Hubei and in countries outside China, including in the United States. Some international destinations now have apparent community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19, meaning some people have been infected who are not sure how or where they became infected. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.
As of 2 March 2020, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, has tested a total of 160 persons for SARS-CoV-2 of which 109 met the case definition for persons under investigation (PIU). As of 2 March 2020, all results have been negative. The NICD is currently the only laboratory performing testing for SARS-CoV-2 and can confirm that South Africa has not had a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19. Despite this, we have noted with concern the disturbing stigmatization against people from affected areas which now includes countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Stigma has the potential to drive people to hide their illness to avoid discrimination and to further prevent people from seeking healthcare. This can lead to difficulties in identifying and controlling the spread of COVID-19 should it reach our shores.
Given that COVID-19 is a new disease, it is understandable that its emergence and possible importation into South Africa may cause confusion, anxiety and fear among the general public; however, viruses do not target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds and we urge the public to desist from participating in stereotyping and discriminating against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation.
Anyone who develops symptoms of respiratory illness including cough, fever and shortness of breath either or during and after recent travel to countries where COVID-19 is known to be circulating (which as of 24 February includes mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy) must seek medical care early and share information about their travel history with their healthcare providers. The General Public Hotline Number is 0800 029 999 and operates on weekdays, Monday to Friday, during 08h00 to 16h00.
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