Why There's No Need To Panic About Coronavirus
Nearly two weeks on from the first confirmed Australian case of the 2019 novel coronavirus, we’ve seen extensive media coverage about how this new virus is impacting the globe.
The outbreak in China has been significant, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases and more than 500 lives lost to the infection -- and numbers are likely to increase as new cases are diagnosed.
Here in Australia, we’ve pleasingly seen a much lesser impact -- 15 cases have been confirmed, all tied back to recent travel or contact with someone in China’s Hubei province, and it is understood that none of these patients are currently in a serious condition.
In a coordinated response with the various government health departments across the country, our Australian hospitals have been well-equipped to treat these patients -- in the same way we treat thousands of patients with other respiratory infections every year.
Our medical professionals are no strangers to treating contagious respiratory infections. For context, 2019 saw hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases of the flu in Australia. Patients with other infections such as whooping cough, pneumonia and tuberculosis are also commonly treated in Australian hospitals.
Our hospitals have strict and robust infection prevention precautions in place to protect our patients, visitors and employees, including the requirement to wear personal protective equipment for our teams treating these patients. These precautions have been effective in preventing cross-infection for many years and are proving to be effective for confirmed cases of coronavirus too.
So, as we see reports about the number of cases in Australia increasing, should we be panicking?
Well no, but we should certainly be cautious and mindful, as we should all year round when it comes to infection prevention.
We should be practicing the same hand hygiene and cough etiquette we use to help avoid getting sick all year round.
We should be staying home from work or school and seeking medical advice if we don’t feel well.
We should be following the government’s self-isolation advice and closely monitoring our health if we’ve recently travelled to China.
We should all be making an effort to stay informed of any developments relating to this evolving situation.
Additionally we should still remember to keep all our other vaccinations up to date and have our annual influenza shot -- as it is likely that this virus will come and go but we can still be impacted by other vaccine-preventable infections.
So is there reason for panic? No.
Public health responses to events such as these account for the worst-case scenario. In this situation we were dealing with a new virus with unknown pathogenicity and transmissibility and to which there is no vaccine available.
However we are learning more every day, and this virus in particular is now known to transmit less easily than many other infections we see commonly (such as measles) and to have a lower mortality than previous expected (probably similar to seasonal influenza).
The best advice you can take on board is the official advice given by our government health departments who are working closely with hospitals and other health authorities around the country and the world to minimise the impact of this virus on Australians.