A practical guide to symptoms, precautions and health measures you can take to safeguard against the virus.
Kids = worry. Us parents constantly stress over our kids’ safety and wellbeing at the best of times, but we must admit we’re a bit shaken by recent news events. Yep, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll know that Singapore, along with many other countries around the world, is on high alert following the outbreak of Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Ready for the science bit? Well, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, such as SARS. A novel coronavirus is a new strain that hasn’t been previously identified in humans” – as is the case with the Wuhan coronavirus.
Closely linked to a wet market in China’s Hubei province, it’s thought the virus evolved from coronavirus strains that previously affected only animals. Now that it’s passed on to humans (and now there’s the risk of human-to-human transmission), the virus may spread much like your average flu. So that’s through the air (if someone who is infected coughs or sneezes), through contact (like shaking hands), or by touching an object that’s been contaminated with the virus (like door handles, surfaces etc) before touching your face. According to one study, that can be as much as 23 times an hour!
Eeeek! So how bad is Wuhan coronavirus in Singapore?
At the time of writing, 16 cases of the coronavirus in Singapore (all have recent travel history to Wuhan) have been confirmed. Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US are among the other countries with reported cases.
The good news? There’s no evidence of community spread so far, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health. Not only that, but precautionary measures are in place to reduce the risk of that happening. In the meantime, be socially responsible and ensure you and your kids maintain good hygiene habits. So, in a nutshell, you don’t need to go into full-on 28 Days Later mode.
So what should I be looking for?
“Some of the common symptoms are fever, cough, runny nose and sore throat, although, occasionally, some symptoms such as fever do not show,” says Dr Chua Xiuzhen, a paediatrician at Kids Clinic @ Bedok. “In severe cases, patients with pneumonia can experience breathlessness.”
Do antibiotics work? What about a vaccine?
As with all viruses, antibiotics are of no use – they only treat bacterial infections. “The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus,” says Dr Chua. “Unfortunately, no vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. However, scientists from around the world are working hard to create a vaccine.”
What precautions can I take?
“Observing good personal hygiene is key – take this opportunity to teach your little ones these good habits,” advises Dr Chua. “Wash your hands frequently with soap, especially after you sneeze or cough into your hands.
“As young kids tend to put their hands in their mouths or rub their eyes, parents should ensure kids wash their hands regularly. If you’re going out, bring along a hand sanitiser and, if possible, avoid crowded places.”
The government has also advised that, as well as adopting good personal hygiene practices, all non-essential travel to China should be postponed. In addition, all travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell.
What you can do
Singapore’s Ministry of Health recommends the following:
- Avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds, and consumption of raw and undercooked meats
- Avoid crowded places and close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness
- Observe good personal hygiene
- Wash your hands frequently with soap. Especially before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing.
- Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. If you are well, there is no need to wear a mask.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing. Dispose the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately
- Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell.
Above all, when it comes to Wuhan coronavirus in Singapore, stay calm and refer to official sources such as the MOH website or sign up for the gov.sg WhatsApp subscription to get the latest updates on the situation.
About Dr Chua Xiuzhen
Dr Chua Xiuzhen is a paediatrician at Kids Clinic @ Bedok with a strong belief in optimising every child’s potential, and is dedicated to providing personalised care for children and their families. In line with her advocacy for children’s health, growth and development, Dr Chua has also participated in public health screenings and clinical research, and has been published in reputable, international peer-reviewed journals.