Identified in early January 2020 in Wuhan China, the coronavirus is part of a large family of viruses that include the common cold, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This is a new strain of the virus not previously identified in humans, with more research required to define the clinical features of the disease, the extent to which it has spread and a vaccine. The source of the infection is unknown but it affects both humans and animals and there is evidence it can pass from person to person.
How does the virus spread?
Most likely, the virus may spread through:
- direct contact with a person whilst they are infectious
- contact with droplets when a person with a confirmed infection coughs or sneezes; or
- touching objects or surfaces (such as door knobs or tables) that were contaminated by droplets from secretions coughed or sneezed from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.
The virus is yet to travel efficiently from person to person, outside China. You would need to share a closed space for a lengthy period or share the same house with someone infected with the virus to contract it.
It is important to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention should you become unwell. The period of time someone is infectious and can spread the virus, is yet to be confirmed, but is likely to be from when they first develop symptoms up to one day after symptoms stop.
Who is most at risk of serious illness?
Previous outbreaks of coronaviruses have identified the following groups as being most at risk of infection:
- people with compromised immune systems
- elderly people
- very young children and babies and
- people with diagnosed heart and lung conditions.
If you develop symptoms
People who have travelled to Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China or another declared outbreak area in the 14 days prior to onset of illness, or who have had close contact with a confirmed case of 2019 novel coronavirus should seek medical assistance immediately. An updated list of declared outbreak areas outside China can be found here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides further updates on declared individual cases here.
If you develop a fever, sweats or chills and have been in contact with someone who is confirmed with the coronavirus:
- contact your doctor
- use a mask if you have one if you need to leave the house
- when you arrive at your doctor’s surgery or hospital, advise them you have been in contact with someone who was infected by the virus
- if you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, call 000 and request an ambulance, inform the ambulance officers that you have been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.
How to defend against contracting the virus
Practice good hygiene including:
- cough and sneeze into your elbow
- wash your hands or use a sanitiser containing 60-95% ethanol or isopropanol, especially before and after eating or going to the bathroom
- avoid contact with others
Only wear a face mask if you have symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, it’s not recommended that you wear a face mask as it won’t protect you.
For more information
This information was correct and up to date at the time of publishing. To remain updated, visit the Australian Government Department of Health homepage at www.health.gov.au or call the Public Health Information Line on 1800 044 599 or contact your state or territory public health agency:
• ACT call 02 5124 9213.
• NSW call 1300 066 055
• NT call 08 8922 8044.
• Qld call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
• SA call 1300 232 272
• Tas call 1800 671 738
• Vic call 1300 651 160