The Wuhan coronavirus is now an international emergency, and Singapore is one of the countries most affected.
Since the alarm was raised early this year, the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCOV) has sickened almost 8,000 people worldwide, the majority of whom are in Mainland China.
As of 9 February 2020 at 12 pm, there are 43 confirmed cases in Singapore, according to figures released by the Ministry of Health.
The pneumonia-like disease has also claimed more than 565 lives in China, heightening fear and anxiety. Most of the victims were older adults and had pre-existing conditions.
Dr Ooi Pei Ling, a paediatrician at SBCC Baby and Child Clinic (Rivervale) shares more.
Photo: The Straits Times
It is a pneumonia-like disease first discovered among workers at wild animal markets in China in December 2019.
The World Health Organization calls it a “public-health emergency of international concern“.
The Wuhan virus spreads much like the common cold, through close contact (less than 1 metre) with an infected person for more than 30 minutes, says Dr Ooi.
It can also spread if you come into contact with a contaminated object or surface before you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Watch out for these symptoms
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
A study published in the Lancet medical journal on Jan 24 suggests that virus could spread even when there are no symptoms. In the particular study, a 10-year-old boy was diagnosed with the Wuhan virus even though he showed no symptoms. His family members had developed symptoms.
Photo: The Straits Times
You are most likely to contract the infection if you’ve contact with infected individuals, Dr Ooi says. This includes those who have travelled to or from China or healthcare professionals who are treating infected patients.
According to various news reports, most of those who died were elderly and/or have other medical conditions.
Everyone (including the young) is equally at risk of getting infected if they come in close contact with a person who is infected, for more than 30 minutes, says Dr Ooi.
Experts can’t yet pinpoint the risk factors for complications. But babies and young children may be at higher risk of developing complications from it because their immune system are not be fully developed, Dr Ooi says.
The youngest infected person so far in Singapore is a six-month-old baby, according to a report in The Straits Times.
Pregnant women may also be at higher risk of developing complications as well. On Feb 2, an infected coronavirus patient gave birth to her baby, who was similarly affected. According to a Reuters report, doctors in China now believe that the coronavirus may be passed from mother to unborn child.
Photo: The Straits Times
Dr Ooi said young children, babies and pregnant mums-to-be can still go out while observing good hygiene practices:
- Practise good hand hygiene (wash hands thoroughly with soap frequently – after using the toilet, before meals, after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing, and so on).
- If you have no access to soap and water, use hand sanitisers that contain at least 60 per cent alcohol.
- Minimise touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid contact with people who are unwell.
- Avoid crowded places as it increases your chances of coming into contact with someone who is sick there.
If your child is very young, help them with frequent hand hygiene. And if they are old enough to understand, explain to them how germs spread and the importance of good hygiene so that they will follow the preventative measures.
Children should also be reminded not to touch their eyes, nose and mouths without first washing their hands. Clean baby toys before allowing your baby to put them into her mouth.
If you or your child is unwell, rest at home and wear face masks to avoid spreading their germs to others. A 3-ply surgical face mask is sufficient, but remember the following when wearing a mask:
- The coloured waterproof side should face outwards
- The mask should cover the nose and mouth completely
- The metal nosepiece should be adjusted to ensure a snug fit
Don’t use surgical masks on infants. Dr Ooi warns that it is not safe and may lead to suffocation.
Students and staff of public educational institutes, as well as staff and people at public childcare facilities, have to take 14 days’ leave of absence starting the day after their return if they have been to China, according to the Early Childhood Development Agency and the Ministry of Education.
Other measures at childcare centres include temperature screening for all children, staff and visitors. Parents or visitors who have a fever or display respiratory symptoms (such as cough and runny nose) are not allowed to enter the preschool’s premises.
With these precautionary measures in place, Dr Ooi says there is no need to remove your baby or child out of infant care or the childcare centre. But if your child is unwell, keep her at home to prevent infecting other kids at the centre.
Keep up-to-date with the information shared by the MOH to take the appropriate actions based on the most current information and directives.
You may be worried about seeing a doctor now if you’re sick, since the Wuhan virus is spreading so rapidly.
But the risk of contracting the 2019-nCOV infection is low, provided you have not travelled to Wuhan or China from early January 2020 till now, says Dr Ooi.
Nonetheless, everyone, including pregnant women, children and babies should seek medical attention if you are not feeling well, particularly if symptoms have not improved in three to four days regardless of whether you have self-medicated.
Babies and young children might not be able to verbalise their symptoms. Hence, seek immediate medical attention if your child is breathless, has difficulty breathing, lethargic or refuses to drink.
Dr Ooi says viruses can easily spread when there is close contact with another person who has the virus, or by touching objects or surfaces that the infected person has touched.
If children are living together with parents or family members who have travelled to China, she advises parents to take enhanced precautions and keep their children at home for 14 days to monitor their health and seek medical attention promptly if feeling unwell.
Besides practising good hand hygiene, other measures include:
- Keeping away from people who are unwell or show signs of illness like fever, cough or runny nose. If possible, avoid crowds and gatherings if your baby is younger than three months old.
- Avoid unnecessary personal contact with others such as being kissed.
- Keep household surfaces clean and sanitise your little ones’ toys and pacifiers often.
- Teach everyone in the household to cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard immediately, or get them to cover their noses and mouths if they cannot get a tissue in time.
According to an article in The Straits Times, a recent report found the coronavirus on the doorknob of an infected person. As the coronavirus is spread via droplets, contact transmission may happen – when you touch a surface that contains these droplets and get infected. Professor Wang Lin Fa, the director of the emerging infectious disease programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, thinks that the risk of contact transmission is higher than droplet transmission.
“Everybody’s wearing a mask but they are not doing anything to protect their hands,” he tells ST. “The lift is the most dangerous place because it is an enclosed space, and everybody has to touch the button to go up or down, or to close the door.”
He adds: “And if you really have to go out, the lifts and the public toilets, these are the places where I would be very, very careful about touching any surfaces to not risk a coronavirus infection.”
He advises using a pen to press lift buttons – remove the cartridge and uncap the pen when you need to touch the button. After using it, cap it and keep it.
In cars and cabs, use a hand sanitiser after getting in and getting out, he says in the interview.
This article first appeared on Young Parents, February 2020
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