Health and Happiness  

Coronavirus: What does it mean for the Okanagan?

Coronavirus and you

At the time of writing, British Columbia currently has five confirmed cases of coronavirus. While initially confined to Vancouver, last week the first presumptive case was confirmed in the Interior Health region. 

The patient had returned from Shanghai to her home in B.C., and she self-isolated at home when she began to display symptoms. Although at present all the cases confirmed are contained in isolation, a spread to the Okanagan isn’t impossible. 

Preventing the spread of coronavirus within B.C. is a challenge, but one that the province is well equipped to deal with. B.C. has already put measures in place to ensure public safety. The province developed one of the first tests to confirm the virus, and a committee has been set up to respond to any cases. 

The good news is that one of the first cases in B.C. to be diagnosed, a man in his 40s, is soon to be released from isolation, after the return of negative test results for the virus. 

One of the key issues raised by health officials is the importance of being inclusive and cognizant of all communities during this period. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry calls for residents of B.C. to be compassionate towards each other, particularly towards the Chinese communities in B.C. 

“We have been hearing some very disturbing references to Chinese communities. This is a time where we all need to work together and be supportive of each other. If we ostracize people it makes it much harder to do our job in public health.”

So what advice has the B.C. government given in relation to the virus? What can you do to protect yourself and your family? I’ve answered all these questions below; if you have any more, please feel free to get in touch in the comments or via email. 

What is coronavirus?

It is a new form of coronavirus that we have not seen before. It originated from animals, and is likely to have spread from a seafood wholesale market in the centre of Wuhan. 

What are the signs and symptoms?

The virus causes pneumonia, which is a type of respiratory infection. This presents predominantly with a cough, fever and shortness of breath. In severe cases, this can lead to organ failure. 

How is it treated? 

As it is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effect and thus aren’t used. The antiviral drugs we use against flu also have no effect because they have been created to specifically target a particular virus, and as yet we haven’t had time to create a drug specifically for this virus. The mainstay of treatment is supportive, meaning we treat the symptoms and rely on the body’s immune system to fight off the infection. This support comes in the form of fluids, oxygen or further respiratory support. Most of the people who have been seriously affected by the virus were already affected by other health conditions, or had a weaker immune system due to age. 

Is it any worse than regular influenza (flu)?

As of yet, we don’t have enough data to compare fully. The mortality rate for the new coronarvirus is around 2%, where seasonal flu is typically 1%. For context, SARS had a mortality rate of 10%. However, the mortality rate for coronavirus is likely to be overestimated; many cases with only mild symptoms are not reported, as the patients aren’t sick enough to require a hospital admission and thus haven’t been counted. 

What should I do to protect myself and my family?

B.C. health authorities have advised that regular handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important things you can do to avoid getting ill. Not touching your face is another crucial part of reducing the rates of transmission. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid others who are unwell. 

Should I wear a mask?

Masks are useful if you are sick, as it helps prevent transmission to others. However, using a mask to prevent yourself getting sick is less effective; it means you are more likely to touch your face, to adjust the mask. 

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Anyone who has travelled from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last two weeks and is experiencing cough or fever or shortness of breath should stay indoors and call 811 or their health provider, even if symptoms are mild. If you haven’t been to any of these areas, or been in close contact with someone who has, seek help from your family doctor or ER as you normally would.  

Most importantly, Coronavirus is nothing to panic about. The chances of falling ill are incredibly slim, and the likelihood is that the virus will not spread to the Okanagan. Please be cognizant of everyone in your community, and show understanding and empathy in this time of uncertainty. If you have any more questions about coronavirus, please get in touch via the comments section or through email. 


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About the Author

Hannah Gibson is a student doctor, originally from the U.K. During her five years at medical school, she's worked in every department from pediatrics to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. 

Hannah is passionate about preventative medicine, and the focus of her column is to educate and inspire people to take proactive measures to improve their health. Alongside her studies, she has also worked as a support worker for various mental health charities, as well as giving talks on sex education in schools. 

Hannah believes that we all can, and should, take responsibility for our own health. It is the most important asset we have, and should be respected as such. Follow each week as she gives you the tools to improve your own health and wellbeing, and ultimately live a happier and healthier life. 

Get in touch through the comments section, or by emailing Hannah on [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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