The new coronavirus: Symptoms, prevention, and what to do if you think you're infected
CBC News
Jan 23, 2020

If you have travelled to Wuhan, China, follow up with a health-care professional

Passengers wear masks as they arrive Thursday at Vancouver International Airport. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Canada. But China has confirmed there has been human-to-human transmission of the virus, and Canadian public health agencies say they have been making preparations for any potential case or outbreak.

Meanwhile, airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal - all of which have direct flights from China - have begun screening passengers.

Here are some basic facts about the virus, its symptoms, prevention, and what to do if you believe you are infected.

What are the symptoms?
The initial symptoms of 2019-nCoV are mainly fever, with a few reports of people having difficulty breathing, and chest X-rays showing signs of pneumonia in both lungs.

According to the World Health Organization, signs of infection can include respiratory complaints, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

The only way to confirm 2019-nCoV is with a lab test. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure.

What should you do?
In general with coronavirus, when you have symptoms, you're most infectious.

If you have travelled to Wuhan, China and develop symptoms of 2019 Novel Coronavirus infection, avoid contact with others and follow up with your health-care professional, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) website.

People who have been to Wuhan arriving in Canada will leave the airport with information in English, French and simplified Chinese on what to do if they do experience symptoms within 14 days.

If you do see a doctor, the PHAC website stresses you should make sure to tell them:

  • Your symptoms.
  • Where you have been travelling and living.
  • If you have had direct contact with animals (for example, visited a live animal market).
  • If you have had close contact with a sick person, especially if they had fever, cough or difficulty breathing

How is it diagnosed?
Respiratory samples are processed by provincial labs. The labs may screen for other things first like flu. The sample is also sent for confirmation at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Is everyone who has been in Wuhan tested?
People who have been to Wuhan but have no symptoms are not tested, but it's an opportunity to give them leaflets and information if they get symptoms in 14 days, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, told reporters

How can you avoid infection?
There is no vaccine to prevent the infection, but health organizations, like the CDC in the U.S., recommend these everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of any respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.

Do masks help?
After the SARS outbreak. the PHAC asked a panel of medical experts for guidance on how flu is transmitted and how best to protect against infection, including the efficiency of face masks.

The report found that masks can offer protection, but there's no evidence inexpensive masks can protect against flu virus particles small enough to be inhaled into the lower respiratory tract or the lungs.

It did find that the N95 masks are the most likely to be efficient because they filter particles smaller than one micron and provide a tight facial seal. It's unclear however if those masks would be effective against this particular virus.

Tam told reporters that wearing a mask when you're well is not an effective measure.

However, health officials might want to put a mask on someone who is sick, for example when they enter the health system. But there's no recommendation to wear a mask for people going about daily activities.