As the confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus in Australia continues to grow, experts are beginning to get a greater understanding of the disease and its impact.
- Experts said the severity of coronavirus was wide-ranging, depending on age and medical history
- Early analysis suggests the virus was more likely to be fatal in people who suffered severe breathlessness
- The median age of people with the virus is 57-years-old
However, there are still many questions — and many unknowns.
And, according to the experts, if you contract the new coronavirus, you can feel anything from being “very, very, ill” to just “mildly unwell”.
James Cook University infectious diseases physician John McBride said there was a spectrum, from people who have recovered and been discharged from hospital to patients in China who have died.
“There is everything from the worried well to people who are desperately ill and have to be admitted to intensive care units,” Professor McBride said.
“So clearly there is a spectrum of severity.”
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said many people with the virus might look and feel as if they have the flu.
“So, people might have some fever, a sore throat and generally feeling unwell,” Dr Chant said.
“They might, in some cases, get some shortness of breath, fatigue, tiredness.”
She said so far Australians with the illness were showing mild symptoms and none were in intensive care.
There is no effective treatment for coronavirus, but patients can be given other medications that might help.
“If you’ve got flu (as well), we would consider whether we give you Tamiflu and if you have bacterial infections, we would treat those,” Dr Chant said.
“But there’s no specific medicine for coronavirus at this time.”
She said getting an accurate diagnosis was crucial.
Who’s in danger?
Professor McBride said the virus was more likely to be fatal in people who had severe breathlessness.
“The information from China shows that patients who had breathing problems did worse,” he said.
But the good news is that, so far, the death rate from the virus was fairly low.
“The official numbers are around 40 deaths out of 2,000, so that’s in the order of 5 per cent or less,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 8,000 people became ill with SARS and of those, 774 people died — a rate of 9.6 per cent.
Prof McBride said it was too soon to speculate on which patients were at risk of dying.
“It’s going to take a while for the picture to become clear,” he said.
Dr Chant said Australia’s high-quality healthcare system meant it was “well-equipped” to deal with more high-needs patients.
How likely are you to contract it?
Health authorities are focusing their attention on people in the Chinese province of Hubei — including the city of Wuhan — where the outbreak started, and on those who travelled on flights with people who have since been diagnosed with the illness.
“It appears from the early observations in Wuhan in China that it seems to have a slight preference for people who are older, who have underlying health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure,” Professor McBride said.
But healthy people could also contract the virus from others who have it.
“This has also infected younger, well people without underlying health problems,” he said.
The median age of people who have the virus is 57-years-old.
Health experts said the symptoms were very similar to the flu — also circulating in Australia at the moment — which could make diagnosis more tricky.
Dr Chant said Australian health experts were collaborating with international colleagues to share knowledge rapidly.
“The community should be assured that we are keeping on top of the evolving situation and we are working seamlessly together,” she said.
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