The ABCs of the Wuhan illness

By Dr. Kayathri Periasamy

The current global health scare sending waves of fear and shock throughout the world is the Wuhan illness or more popularly known as the Coronavirus. While it is easy to get caught in the circle of panic caused by news or social media, exercising patience and precaution goes a long way in curbing this epidemic. It is also important to mention that the deaths that are being reported were mainly individuals with immune systems that were already vulnerable.

Tagged by medical researchers as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (nCoV), the Wuhan illness is caused by a large family of coronaviruses – named as such for the spikes that protrude from its membrane resembling the sun’s corona.Strains of this viral family have been known to cause respiratory illnesses ranging from common colds to more severe respiratory afflictions such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Most commonly found in animals, this previously unidentified strain of the virus is now shown to spread from human to human. The speculated origin of this particular outbreak has been traced to massive live seafood, and wild animal market in the Wuhan, China.

Patients who have caught the virus often complain of symptoms such as a dry cough, fever and breathing difficulties, which escalate to pneumonia, organ failure and even death if medical attention is not sought immediately. Symptoms start presenting themselves after an incubation period which can go from 2 to 14 days, and the patient remains contagious during this time. A real-time reverse transcriptase PCR test can confirm the presence of the virus, and the Sri Lanka medical authorities is currently equipped to test for this particular strain.

The Coronavirus is suspected only if the patient has a history of travel to China in the last 14 days or has had close contact with someone having Wuhan illness.  nCoV transfers from one human to anotherthrough respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing, or via bodily fluids of the infected person by touching those with the illness. Basically, having been in prolonged close contact with a patient; this includes kissing, hugging, sharing eating and drinking utensils, talking to someone within 3 feet, and touching someone directly. Close contact does not include activities like walking pass by or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office.

Close contact of this form can come about on public transport, at workplaces, educational institutes or even from dining out. Precautions to take include;

  • Thoroughly adhering to the practice of wearing a mask in crowded areas, public transport or at work or study spaces.
  • Minimizing close contact with individuals who are sneezing or coughing
  • Carrying around alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Wating well-cooked food preferably at home
  • Avoiding the practice of excessively touching one’s face, eyes or mouth while outside to stop passing viruses from hands to these areas where viruses can spread even faster. 

Parents with school-going children should be cautious and follow precautionary measures as stated above. However, if there is a suspected case, report it to the school authority and wait for advice on quarantine. Parents who have been in contact with patients with the coronavirus should keep family at home for ten days to ensure they don’t pass this onto others.

Most importantly, however, keep yourself healthy and boost your immune system by eating healthy, regular exercise, proper sleep, plenty of water, and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol. If you suffer from any chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and lung disease, make sure that these conditions are well cared for. Most people who succumb to this virus were in poor health initially.

Treatment wise, it has to be said that the coronavirus illness improves on its own. Antibiotics don’t work for this, and the currently available anti-virals also don’t seem to work. Treatment is supportive, and for those who are severely ill, then hospitalisation and ventilation are prescribed until the condition improves. Most adults who have strong immunity don’t get severe symptoms. Those with weak immune systems such as elderly and those with other illnesses like diabetes, cancer and or other infections may get worse.

Currently, a presidential committee has been set up to coordinate efforts to contain the epidemic and avoid an outbreak, with a station set up at the BIA to screen individuals coming into the country. The IDH has been set up to take in persons who are suspected of quarantine and treatment. The Sri Lanka Medical Research unit is now fully-equipped to test for coronaviruses. All entry points to the country has been covered and several major hospitals are armed to handle an outbreak.

If you suspect contact with Wuhan illness and don’t feel ill, stay home as much as possible to avoid exposing others as symptoms may take anywhere between 2 – 14 days to show itself.Contact your family doctor first and upon guidance, contact the National Institution of Infectious Diseases. Government information hotlines to deal with this emergency: 071-0107107; 011 3071073


(Dr. Kayathri Periasamy MBBS (UK), MRCP(UK), Board Certified in Int. Medicine (U.S.A) is a Consultant Physician and the founder of Healthy Life Diabetes Clinic, Colombo 03.)



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