Dr. Sanjay Paithankar
Dr Sanjay Paithankar Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai/Sharjah: “Stop panicking.You don’t have coronavirus,” Dr Sanjay Paithankar, managing director at Right Health in UAE, tells one of his patients in Sharjah.

“You only have a cough, there is no fever, no running nose, don’t be afraid, you don’t have coronavirus,” explains Paithankar to his patient, a blue-collar worker from a labour camp close situated close to his clinic.

Global outbreak

The new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 24,500 people globally and killed more than 490.


But while only few cases have been identified in the UAE as of now - all being monitored by health authorities -misinformation is rampant, say doctors.

“Lack of accurate information is leading people to assume wrong things about coronavirus. People think every cough is coronavirus and every coronavirus leads to cancer,” says Dr Paithankar.

Dr. Sanjay Paithankar
Dr. Sanjay Paithankar, 59, says residents in UAE are on a panic mode, they need to calm down about Coronavirus Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman / Gulf News

“The blue-collared workers whom I usually treat at camps and in my clinic are unaware about what [the new] coronavirus is. They are simply panicking about the disease,” he adds.

Around the world

The numbers across the globe however are on the rise; World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the spreading of the virus a global emergency. As a result there have been planeloads of passengers from various countries being flown back to home and into isolation wards, global cruise lines have declared passengers from China a no-go and flights from some countries have been grounded.

On February 5, it came to light that 10 passengers that had been  on a cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for the new coronavirus, public broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media reported, citing the health ministry.

[Japan quarantined the vessel carrying 3,711 people and was testing those onboard for the virus after a former passenger was diagnosed with the illness in Hong Kong.]

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed deaths from the virus in China rose to 490 on Wednesday. In its daily update, figures from the health commission in Hubei, which has been hit hardest by the virus, also showed a jump in confirmed infections with 3,156 new cases.

In Kerala, India, a total of 2,421 people have been put under observation, including 100 people in quarantine facilities, state Health Minister KK Shailaja said on Tuesday, February 4.

According to WHO, there have been 27 cases of person-to-person spread of the coronavirus documented in nine (9) countries outside of China. The number was revealed on Tuesday, February 4.

UAE warns against misinformation

However, as these numbers begin to germinate wild ideas, the experts in UAE are quick to quell nation-wide rumours. Dr Jyoti Upadhyay, Specialist, Internal Medicine, Aster Hospital explains every day there are 30 to 40 patients visiting her clinic and they all think they have coronavirus. “It is a case of either too much information or lack of education. Awareness needs to be raised and the panic button needs to be stopped.”

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) in the UAE also warned people against spreading rumours about coronavirus cases in the country on January 30.

The ministry posted a feed on its Instagram handle warning people not to spread panic and false rumours about coronavirus in UAE. The ministry took to social media on Thursday to warn the public.

Paithankar said there is no need for residents in the UAE to panic. “The government has done well to curb the spread of the disease. Only a few [five] cases have been reported and the UAE government is ensuring residents are safe."

"Staff of clinics and hospitals in the UAE have been trained and equipped to handle cases and any emergency situation. It is commendable the way the government has come together,” he said.

Don't mistake flu for Coronavirus

Remember it is the flu season - so don't panic if you get a case of the sniffles. Dr Saima Khan, General Practitioner, Medcare Hospital Al Safa, explains: "The symptoms can be similar between an influenza virus, a coronavirus or just a normal virus, which is shortness of breath, cough, high grade fever, headache nausea runny nose, abdominal cramps etc. But remember every cough does not lead to coronavirus."

She said the main factor that decides if a more thorough investigation is needed is the potential exposure the person has had to the virus. "The one thing that is of prime importance to us is if the person has recently travelled to China? We ask patients if they have travelled to China or the Far East anytime or if they have been exposed to someone who recently travelled to China. If we see a patient with a severe symptom and these other criterias check, then we do a throat and nasal swab. The samples are sent to Rashid Hospital where the tests are being conducted for coronavirus," adds Khan.

What do you if you have a runny nose and fever?

"Take rest at home and do not spread the virus. But again, do not panic. If you have a simple cough and runny nose, pop in some Vitamin C tablets and let your body immunse system do its job to eradicate the virus. If the flu persists and you see a deteriration in health, don't wait, visit a doctor immediately. But importantly, stay away from office if you are down with the flu. You are touching the table, desktop, eating with colleagues, it is not advisable to pass it on to colleagues at work," Dr Khan.

What is Coronavirus?

An ambulance driver (R) of Ernakulam medical college puts on gears up with protective apparel to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus, as he prepares before going to pick a suspected virus patient, in Kochi on February 4, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectitious Diseases (NIH), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, in people. However, three times in the 21st century coronavirus outbreaks have emerged from animal reservoirs to cause severe disease and global transmission concerns.

Why is it called Coronavirus?

According to National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, coronaviruses are named for the spikes that protrude from their membranes, which resemble a crown or the sun's corona. They often circulate among camels, cats and bats and can sometimes evolve and infect people. In animals, coronaviruses can cause diarrhea in cows and pigs, and upper respiratory diseases in chickens. The infections can range from the common cold to dangerous conditions like severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which sickened thousands of people around the world - and killed nearly 800 - during an outbreak in 2003. Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, is also caused by a coronavirus.

Where is the virus originating from?

According to The National Foundation for Infectitious Diseases, there are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among animals including pigs, camels, bats and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans—called a spillover event—and can cause disease. Seven coronaviruses are known to cause human disease, four of which are mild: viruses 229E, OC43, NL63 and HKU1. Three of the coronaviruses can have more serious outcomes in people, and those are SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which emerged in late 2002 and disappeared by 2004; MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which emerged in 2012 and remains in circulation in camels; and the 2019-nCoV, which emerged in December 2019 from China and a global effort is under way to contain its spread.

Image Credit: Reuters

Is there a vaccine against the coronavirus?

No, there is not. China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on January 26 it will start developing a vaccine against Novel Coronavirus.

Bloomberg News on Monday, February 3, said China has kick-started a clinical trial to test a drug for the novel coronavirus infection. According to a report in Bloomberg News, Remdesivir, a new antiviral drug by Gilead Sciences Inc. aimed at infectious diseases such Ebola and SARS, will be tested by a medical team from Beijing-based China-Japan Friendship Hospital for efficacy in treating the deadly new strain of coronavirus.

Is there any treatment for coronavirus?

Yes, according to China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is using AbbVie Inc's HIV drugs as an ad-hoc treatment for pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus while the global search for a cure continues.

The Beijing branch of China's National Health Commission said that a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, sold under the brand name Kaletra by AbbVie, is part of its latest treatment plan for patients infected by the virus.

The NHC said that while there is not yet any effective anti-viral drug, it recommends patients are given two lopinavir and ritonavir tablets twice a day and a dose of alpha-interpheron through nebulization twice daily.

Is coronavirus transmitted through imported goods?

There is no evidence that nCoV can be transmitted by items and goods.

The name, picked by the team of Chinese scientists who isolated and identified the virus, is short for “novel coronavirus of 2019.” It reflects the fact that the virus was first recognized to have infected humans late last year — in a seafood and live-animal market in Wuhan — and that it belongs to the coronavirus family, a notorious group. The SARS epidemic of 2002-3, which infected 8,098 people worldwide, killing 774 of them, was caused by a coronavirus, and so was the MERS outbreak that began on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and still lingers (2,494 people infected and 858 deaths as of November).