We are receiving a few requests for information about how to manage the new virus that is making the news right now. Although the chances are good that this will be a non-issue, there is a lot of public concern so we thought to bring you some information you could use to navigate the muddy waters.
The novel Coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China is continuing to spread worldwide. It is very early days at the moment so it is impossible to be sure how this virus will behave longer term, however it is likely that it will be somewhat similar to the SARS virus from 2003, which was of a similar type. Evidence so far suggests that SARS-like behaviour is expected. SARS was a very unpleasant disease for some people and caused significant disruption even though it did not spread especially widely. This is because as a rule, these viruses tend to be quite hard to catch, evolved as they are for animals other than humans. Once the transition to humans is made, virus subtypes that are easier to catch often develop, though these tend to be less dangerous. This may be because our immune systems are better at dealing with the sort of viruses that find it easy to infect us, although this is just one of several theories.
Right now (27/01/20) there are NO CASES in New Zealand so there is no immediate need for concern. It is also Summer, which makes it less likely that viruses will be transmitted. Most people who catch the virus don't die but rather they make a full recovery though some are very sick for a while. Unfortunately, the virus can be spread by people before they become unwell so there is no effective way to screen at borders and therefore prevent transmission.
The main risk to New Zealand is that the virus could cause disruption to healthcare services as more very sick people would be expected to need treatment. With good treatment, outcomes are excellent, but treating sick people disrupts other healthcare activity and so keeping the numbers of infected people low is very helpful.
What should you do about it right now?
There is certainly no need to panic, no need to avoid neighbours and no need to rush into anything now, but an ordely move to a higher state of preparedness is certainly called for. In the very unlikely event of a pandemic, essential services such as power and water are expected to function normally, but access to shops may be difficult and it really helps to prevent disease spread if you stay away from other people. You may also find yourself isolated from others without notice, or needing to stay away from home or school so be prepared to keep in touch, and be able to isolate yourself if required to do so. The key is trying to prevent transmission, and having the ability to help yourselves so that emergency services are freed to deal with others who cannot.
REMEMBER - there is NO NEED TO PANIC - the chances of this virus spreading widely and causing significant harm are actually very small. Remember that this is early days and the WHO does not yet consider this to be an emergency or of serious concern.
Dr Stephanie Taylor