2019 Coronavirus – looking beyond the headlines

I have been frustrated by the media’s propensity to exaggerate, stretch the truth, add hype and mislead and scare the public. For examples, the headlines in the Weekend Australian (1/2/20) states “Virus Deadlier than it Looks”.  So where to find information without the hysteria?

By way of introduction, human coronaviruses have long been considered inconsequential pathogens, causing the “common cold” in otherwise healthy people, a little like rhinovirus. However, 2 pathogenic coronavirus have emerged from animal reservoirs  to cause global concerns. You may recall from 2002 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and and in 2014, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)In December 2019, another pathogenic coronavirus, now known as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), was recognized in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, and has caused serious illness and deaths. This outbreak evolving.

Coronaviruses are large, enveloped, positive strand RNA viruses Four human coronavirus (HCoV 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1) are endemic and account for 10% to 30% of upper respiratory tract infections in adults. Coronaviruses are ecologically diverse and bats are suggested reservoirs for many of these viruses. Rumours that snakes were involved seem to be unfounded. Other mammals may be intermediate hosts, facilitating recombination and mutation events with expansion of genetic diversity. The surface spike (S) glycoprotein is critical for binding of host cell receptors and is believed to represent a key determinant of host range restriction. This maybe the focus of a vaccination, although none are currently available.


Symptoms resulting from 2019-nCoV infection at the prodromal phase, including fever, dry cough, and malaise, are nonspecific. It could be a wide range of viral or bacterial illnesses. A number of people go on to develop respiratory symptoms (cough and shortness of breath) which is some are severe and potentially life threatening without respiratory support, ie ICU. Fatality rates are thought to be lower than SARS CoV  and MERS CoV infection and influenza. Testing can be done if you are symptomatic or a close contact and involves sampling nasal (not comfortable), pharyngeal secretions and sputum (not saliva). A blood test may also be done. Testing see if you are safe to return to school or work is not recommended unless the criteria in the links above and below are satisfied. Just because your boss or school principal tells you need to be tested doesn’t make it so. I wont copy out the case definition criteria here as they may well change.

Here is what you can do to reduce your risk of not just 2019-nCoV, but also other viral and bacterial infections. Just remember that is you have any fresh cuts or your hand, the alcohol gel will sting!

Remember if you think you need medical attention, please call ahead to your GP or ED, don’t just turn up to potentially infect a waiting room of people, clinic staff and your health practitioner.  I say this, as a number of communications encourage people to see their GP immediately.

Here is a list of my sources for reputable information without the media hype.

Australian Health Department website and News feed.

This also contains the address of state based health departments which may have relevant information for the state you live in. I’m not going to say which one has the best or right information, but I do know that Health departments which suggest you should immediately visit your GP are not my favourite. Maybe in time they will hand out PPE that I need for me to do my job safely.

If you are travelling overseas, the Smartraveller website offers sensible advise.

World Health Organisation website and Twitter feed

CDC USA website and Twitter feed

There is likely to duplication of information on these sites

If you to keep up to date with the number of published cases, this WHO map will help. I would suggest you scroll out as big pink blobs at first look scary. Here is another map with red dots.

For science rather than hype here are few links

Finally coronavirus has nothing to do with beer.