By January 7 2020, it was confirmed that a new coronavirus now named 2019-nCoV had spread from animals to humans.
As of Monday January 27,2020, 80 people had died from 2,744 cases in China. While there have been confirmed cases in Asia, Europe and the United States, WHO is yet to declare it a global health emergency.
WHO is working with authorities in China to fill the information gaps, and contain the outbreak.
“We don’t know the source of this virus, we don’t understand how easily it spreads and we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity. WHO is working with our partners… to fill the gaps in our knowledge as quickly as possible,’‘ Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General said.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that normally circulate in animals, and some of them have the capacity to transmit between humans and animals.
Previously there have been global outbreaks of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS), which killed hundreds of people.
The current coronavirus, codenamed the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is believed to have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan. Experts believe that it could have transmitted from snakes. SARS and MERS were transmitted from Civet cats and camels respectively.
Coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms like common cold, short breath, fever and pneumonia. Other symptoms include a runny nose, cough, a sore throat and the possibility of headache.
WHO recommends washing of hands with soap and water, covering the mouth when coughing, avoiding unnecessary unprotected contact with live animals and to consume only meat that has been thoroughly cooked.
There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses, but symptoms can be treated. There is equally no vaccine to protect against coronaviruses but trials for a MERS vaccine are underway.
Several African countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Botswana and Uganda have stepped up alertness and preventive measures, including screening travelers at points of entry like airports.
Ivory Coast on Monday conducted the first test for the coronavirus on the African continent, after a student arrived at an airport in Abidjan with symptoms.