While the World Health Organization has not declared the coronavirus an outbreak on an international scale, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been closely monitoring for possible cases closer to home.
On Tuesday, officials announced the first case of coronavirus was presumed in B.C. Test results expected back by Thursday will confirm whether the individual has coronavirus.
Here are five things to know about the virus.
What is coronavirus?
The new coronavirus, named 2019-nCOV, is a respiratory infection. There are many types of coronavirus, some linked to the common cold, but this one is new.
It is similar to other respiratory illnesses and symptoms include a fever, dry cough, sore throat and headache. While most cases are mild, some individuals may experience more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, and may experience pneumonia in both lungs. It may take up to 14 days after exposure for symptoms appear.
The illness was first detected in December in a group of people in Wuhan City, located in the Hubei province of central China, following exposure to live animals at the Huanan Seafood Market; the market has been closed since Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection.
Recent cases, however, have surfaced without exposure to animals or markets, suggesting that the virus can spread between people though it remains unknown how easily this happens.
The virus has been labelled the Wuhan coronavirus to reflect the location in central China where it was first identified.
How far has it spread in Canada and B.C.?
The first case of coronavirus has been presumed in British Columbia, according to B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Henry said Tuesday that the patient, a B.C. man In his 40s, arrived in Vancouver last week after travelling to Wuhan, China. He started experiencing symptoms 24 hours later. Henry says the man is not in hospital but is being kept isolated at home and no members of his family have shown any symptoms as they are being monitored by health officials.
The province expects to have test results from the man’s case back from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg within 48 hours. If confirmed, it would be the first case of coronavirus in B.C.
Elsewhere in Canada, a man in Toronto was reported as the first case of novel coronavirus, while his wife is presumed to be the second. A man in Seattle has also been confirmed to have coronavirus, after he started experiencing flu-like symptoms.
China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of a new form of coronavirus, with at least 106 deaths. It has also been reported in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.
As of Jan. 28, the World Health Organization reported:
• 4,593 cases confirmed around the world
• 4,537 of those cases were in regions of China (including Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan)
• 56 cases confirmed in 14 other countries outside of China
• 106 deaths, all located in regions of China
Are there precautions I can take against coronavirus?
Health officials say special precautions are not necessary other than the usual steps taken during a regular flu or winter season.
Regular handwashing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow sleeve instead of your hands, disposing of tissues properly, and avoiding contact with people who are sick are adequate steps to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, say health officials.
While some have opted to wear surgical or face masks during this time, experts say the masks are not entirely effective or necessary for the average person going about their daily lives.
Surgical face masks do not provide a tight seal around the face so while it does protect from respiratory droplets from a sneeze or a cough, the coronavirus is still present in airborne droplets that can get around a surgical mask.
A N95 mask, which features a structured cup shape, does provide a secure seal if worn properly and filters more particles; however, the current level of risk is still low enough that unless you’re a medical professional, a N95 mask isn’t needed.
What should I do if I’ve been travelling or will be travelling soon to an affected region?
If you’ve recently travelled and become ill either during or after your return, notify your health care provider, local public health office or call 811. It’s best to call for information and advice before heading to your local doctor’s office or emergency room.
If you have plans to travel to any affected regions and no longer feel comfortable doing so, check with your airline or travel specialist to see if it’s possible to cancel or reschedule your trip. China Eastern is among the airlines that are now offering refunds or exchanges for eligible flight itineraries, free of charge, while United was the first U.S. airline to cancel some flights to China.
Travellers who go ahead with their plans are reminded to wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with live animals at farms and markets, avoid eating raw animals or meat, and avoid surfaces with animal secretions such as blood and droppings.
The Canadian government is encouraging Canadians to avoid all travel to the Hubei province where the virus was first detected.
How are other countries or health authorities dealing with coronavirus?
As a result of fears around coronavirus, some cities around the world cancelled or banned large gatherings during the recent Lunar New Year weekend to prevent the virus from spreading.
Both the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort were both shut indefinitely in recent days to prevent spread, along with Hong Kong’s Ocean Park amusement park. The 2020 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon was also cancelled.
The U.S. State Department had coordinated an evacuation flight to ferry American consulate staff, their families and a small number of private citizens out of Wuhan and over to California on Tuesday. Japan had also sent a first plane to Wuhan to evacuate its nationals, after the Chinese city was locked down following the outbreak.
Closer to home, the Live in Langley Chinese Association cancelled a gala this weekend that was sponsored by the Township of Langley. Vancouver’s Chinatown celebrations, however, went on as planned.