Health Minister Gan Kim Yong outlined everything Singapore currently knows about the Wuhan novel coronavirus in a Ministerial Statement.
Speaking in Parliament on Feb. 3, Gan said that he understood Singaporeans' concerns, and sought to provide some background knowledge on the virus for the public's information.
What to know about the Wuhan virus
The Wuhan novel coronavirus comes from a family with includes other viruses like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the common cold.
The Wuhan virus, according to current medical consensus, appears to be more transmissible but less deadly than SARS.
According to Gan, evidence suggests that transmission is done mostly via droplets emitted from an infected person over a short distance, such as coughing or sneezing.
Gan states that infection can happen if the droplets come into contact with your eyes, nose or mouth, directly or indirectly, from hands that have touched the droplets.
This does not mean that the virus is airborne, as there is no evidence that it can be transported via air currents or transmit to an individual without droplets.
The virus can also spread through surface contact.
When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the droplets fall onto surfaces like tables, chairs, and handles. If another person comes along, touches that surface and then rubs their face, infection may occur.
While Gan stated that they still hadn't ascertained how long the virus remains active on these surfaces, he gave a rough estimate of two to three days.
Risk of transient infection is low
This is why the most effective manner of preventing the spread of the virus is through good personal hygiene, washing hands with soap and water, and avoid touching faces.
This is also why quarantine is limited to the close contacts of patients with confirmed cases.
If someone who has the virus walks past you in a public space, the risk of transmission is low.
In general coronaviruses are most infectious when a patient is displaying symptoms (i.e. coughing, sneezing).
There is evidence of limited spread from a person without symptoms, during the incubation period, but so far this involves only isolated cases and is thought to be uncommon.
This in turn means that infection from asymptomatic carriers of the virus is more likely to be spread via contact of contaminated surfaces.
This is why wearing masks if you are not ill may give a false sense of security, as one may still touch one's face while wearing a mask, and become infected that way.
Masks are more useful when you are unwell and have to go out in public, such as to visit the doctor.
Symptoms and treatment
People exposed to the virus may appear well for a few days, then develop symptoms like fever and a cough, or pneumonia.
There is currently no known cure for the Wuhan virus. Development of one may take a long time, months or even years. Therefore the current approach is to provide care for patients to reduce complications and allow them time to recover.
Gan added that the fatality rate currently stands around two to three per cent, with the majority of deaths coming from those with existing medical conditions.
In contrast, SARS's fatality rate was 10 per cent. However, Gan stressed that it is still the initial stages of the Wuhan virus, so the actual severity can only be assessed after some time.
Top image from Gov.sg.