The world is currently shaken by the news of a single strand RNA virus — the novel coronavirus (2019-nCOv) — first detected in Wuhan, Hubei in China in early December last year. As of February 12, according to World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 45,171 confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths worldwide.

Prevention is better than cure

BMC chairman Dr John Chew, medical director Dr Simon Huang and marketing manager Melanie Kho.

With the outbreak gradually seeping into foreign countries including Malaysia, the symptoms shown by patients of the virus can include sore throat, runny nose, fever or pneumonia and can progress to multiple organ failure or even death. Borneo Medical Centre, Kuching’s (BMC) Medical Director Dr. Simon Huang added that the virus could also attack the gut. Hence as a Consultant Gastroenterologist, he also pays extra attention to patients with bowel problems such as diarrhoea.

Other than the symptoms above, individuals who had contact with those who have visited or has been to China in recent weeks are advised to self-isolate themselves for 14 days. The incubation period of the coronavirus is between two to 14 days.

Dr John Chew explaining to New Sarawak Tribune on transmission of droplets through coughing or sneezing.

Speaking to BMC’s Chairman Dr. John Chew, he said that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets carried through coughing or sneezing as known so far. Therefore, those with respiratory illnesses are advised to wear a mask to avoid spreading of the droplets.

Entering the third month since the virus was discovered, while there are individuals cured of the disease, there is currently no established treatment. While the world is working on vaccines, Dr. Chew shared that treatment provided to patients are mainly on symptomatic relief and supportive management of complications that arise.

Based on current data, people who are at higher risk for severe disease and death are those who are immunocompromised and the elderly. However, much is still unknown about the deadly virus named 2019-nCoV and more information will come to light as research progresses.

Preventive measures

According to Dr, Chew, it is of utmost importance to now maintain a high level of hygiene to limit the transmission of the virus. “It is advised that people wash their hands often with soap or sanitiser. Surfaces must also be cleaned with iodine, chlorine or disinfectants containing alcohol regularly.

He also added that in the meantime, it is best to only travel when necessary, to avoid closed crowded spaces and to refrain from touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Dr. Chew also encouraged smokers to stop smoking as the habit can paralyse the cilia (found in lungs, respiratory tract and middle ear to keep airways clean from mucus and dirt) and increases the risk of contracting respiratory viruses.

Apart from that, practising proper cough etiquette by covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately after use is also important. “You can also cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve and not your hands.”

Building a stronger immunity by eating nutritious food and having a healthy lifestyle are also among the preventive measures that can be taken.

BMC has taken various precautionary measures and have stepped up their screening procedures at all entrances following the guidelines by the Ministry of Health. They are also disinfecting public contact surfaces on an hourly basis to curb any possible spread of viruses.

“If you fit the case definition of 2019-nCoV by Ministry of Health Malaysia, which is having fever or experiencing any acute respiratory infection and travelled to China in the 14 days before the onset of illness, or have close contact with anyone confirmed of the infection, immediately proceed to the nearest designated screening hospitals which is the Sarawak General Hospital if you are within Kuching. The situation is evolving rapidly with many unknown possibilities.