LAHORE                 -           Public health experts believe that outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus in China should be taken as caution, not alarm.

“The story of coronavirus, first reported in China, last month, now seems to be reaching the point where public indifference tips into worry and even fear”, said veteran virologist Prof Waheeduz Zaman Tariq at a training session here at the University of Health Sciences(UHS) on Wednesday. Prof Waheed, who heads Infectious Diseases’ department at Chughtai institute of Pathology, Lahore, added that sounding the alarm unnecessarily had dangers of its own.

“People may fail to pay heed next time, or may overreact this time. Equally, muting discussions can backfire, especially in a world where information can be shared so quickly. It is essential that authorities at all levels are open about this outbreak, as well as assiduous in tackling it”, he opined.

Prof Waheed further said that new outbreaks were worrying, but gave opportunities to improve preparation for the next threat, be that through research, or an understanding that communication was as essential to disease control as hand washing and vaccines. He, however, cautioned that as too little information was available to draw firm conclusions about this virus, its dangers, therefore, should not be discounted. “Its cost has already been felt by the young, the elderly and those with existing medical issues, and there is concern that it could mutate into something worse”, he said adding the virus, likely to spread through coughing and sneezing, had now sickened more than 6,000 people and killed135 in China.

UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram said that new strain of coronavirus, a family of pathogens that cause respiratory illness in birds and mammals, has jumped species and infected humans. As the pneumonia-causing virus has triggered a health scare in China, it would be sensible to be concerned. “But, we must take care not to overreact to the developing situation,” he advised.

Prof Javed Akram said that UHS would extend full support to the government in optimizing PCR test facilities for diagnosis of coronavirus. He said that a six-member committee of varsity’s faculty headed by Dr Shah Jahan had been constituted. He opined that wuzu (ablution) was the most effective preventive measure against coronavirus. He said that Islamic concept of Hilal and traditional way of cooking food minimized the risk of getting infected with the virus. He further said that as compared to common masks available in market, N95 masks had proved more effective in prevention.

He said that people must: frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, or warm water and soap; cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing; avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough; seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers; avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas; avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk, or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Director General Health Services Punjab Dr Haroon Jahangir said not a single case of coronavirus had so far been confirmed in the country. He added that the government was in continuous contact with the World Health Organization which had not declared coronavirus an epidemic so far. He informed that five airports of the province had been linked to nearby teaching hospitals to avert the threat of transfer of virus through passengers coming from abroad. He also lauded the efforts of UHS for creating awareness on the issue.

UHS Microbiology department’s head Dr Sidra Saleem, Lahore Medical and Dental College’s Professor of Community Medicine Dr Fatima Mukhtar also spoke on the occasion. The microbiologists, pathologist from various medical colleges, rescue workers and health personnel from civil aviation attended the training workshop.