Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

Dr Nadia Ather speaks to MAG about the deadly virus and the global emergency

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the fatal coronavirus spreading quickly across China a global health emergency.

At least 213 people have died in China with almost 10,000 cases reported nationally. According to WHO, there have been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths have been reported yet. (These figures are dated as of 3rd February)

MAG got in touch with Professor Dr Nadia Ather, an internist (a medical specialist in internal diseases) who works as a consultant physician at the National Medical Centre, Karachi and Altamash General Hospital, Karachi, to discuss the symptoms, causes, treatment and more regarding the life-threatening virus.

Symptoms, causes and treatment

As the deadly coronavirus spreads across the globe, doctors are getting a better understanding of what symptoms and warning signs we need to keep an eye out for.

According to Dr Ather, novel coronavirus is the cause of the recent outbreak of respiratory illness. Illness varies from mild flu-like to severe life threatening pneumonia, respiratory distress and failure. People may have symptoms like cough, fever and shortness of breath.

Like other viruses, for example influenza, it is self limiting. There is no antiviral or vaccine available so far, therefore supportive treatment is very important. “Patients should have plenty of fluids, and should have paracetamol for fever. If they experience shortness of breath and extreme lethargy they should be admitted in a hospital for supportive treatment and isolation. Even if they are treated at home they should be isolated in one room and should wear a mask to prevent spread of the virus to others,” advices Dr Ather.

Incubation period

The incubation period of the coronavirus remains unknown. Some sources say it could be between 10 and 14 days. As claimed by Dr Ather, it usually takes between two to 14 days for the symptoms to appear.


Research has not yet concluded on how a human coronavirus spreads from one person to the next.

However, it is believed that the viruses transmit via secreted fluid from the respiratory system.

Coronaviruses can spread in the following ways:

1. Coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth can disperse droplets into the air, spreading the virus.

2. Touching or shaking hands with a person who is infected can pass the virus from one person to another.

3. Making contact with a surface or object that has been exposed to the virus and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.

4. On rare occasions, a coronavirus may spread through contact with feces.

According to Dr Ather, this virus is also transmitted from animals to humans and from humans to humans. Animals like birds, cats, camels, dogs etc can suffer from the virus and transmit to other animals and eventually to humans.

Precautionary measures

WHO has published the guidelines for prevention against coronavirus:

Frequently wash hands with soap specially after: coughing and sneezing, handling animals, playing with pets and after using toilets.

While coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth with a tissue or elbow and throw the tissue immediately and wash your hands. Wear a face mask while going to public places or taking care of a patient suffering from the virus. Also avoid traveling to compromised areas.

The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

Groups of people more at risk than others

As stated by Dr Ather, people at the extremes of ages that are elderly and children, and those who are already ill or have certain chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes are at increased risk of getting the virus and severe illness.

Fatality of the virus

The illness varies from mild, self limiting to life-threatening respiratory failure. But the severity depends on a person’s immunity.

People with weak immunity (diabetics, hypertensive cancer patients in chemotherapy) may have severe respiratory illness and die of respiratory failure or infection, says Dr Ather.

Additional information

Dr Ather gives our readers some additional preventive measures against coronavirus. According to the doctor, this virus is like the other viruses such as influenza and SARS, only people with weak immunity, elderly and children are at risk of catching a severe illness. Just have plenty of water and have paracetamol for fever during the illness and take adequate rest.

If someone is suffering from coronavirus illness they should protect others from getting sick. They should not come in close contact with people, especially aforementioned groups of people. Avoid spitting at public places. Wear a face mask, and cover your face while sneezing and coughing.