‘Symptomless’ coronavirus poses deadly risk for millions with asthma – as UK on high alert for killer bug

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KILLER coronavirus could pose a lethal threat for millions of Brits with asthma, experts have warned.

Health experts in China say the deadly bug, which has killed at least 81, can be passed on before the infected even know they are sick.

Coronavirus could pose a threat for those with asthma, stock image shows viral pneumonia in the lungs
Getty Images – Getty

Coronavirus could pose a threat for those with asthma, stock image shows viral pneumonia in the lungs[/caption]

The virus is understood to cause symptoms which can exacerbate asthma and increase the risk of potentially life-threatening attacks.

Emma Rubach, head of health advice at Asthma UK, told The Sun Online: “Coronavirus can cause respiratory problems for anyone.

“But for the 5.4million people in the UK with asthma, respiratory viruses bring an increased risk of asthma symptoms and potentially life threatening asthma attacks.”

For the 5.4million people in the UK with asthma, respiratory viruses bring an increased risk of potentially life threatening asthma attacks


Emma Rubachhead of health advice at Asthma UK

Some 52 people have now been tested for coronavirus in the UK, although all have come back negative.

However Public Health England said today that the first UK case is likely already in the country.

Protect yourself

Emma said that this could leave people with asthma particularly concerned, however there are practical steps to staying well.

She added: “It’s vital that you take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) daily as prescribed to build up protection in your airways over time and reduce your risk of an asthma attack if you do catch a virus.

“Keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) nearby, so you can use it if your symptoms get worse.

“Wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching a virus and avoid sharing towels, cups or other household items with someone who might be affected.”

The new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, causes symptoms that may start as a cold and eventually end up developing into pneumonia
The new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, causes symptoms that may start as a cold and eventually end up developing into pneumonia

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu.

The virus attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.

There is no vaccine for coronavirus.

In 2003 an outbreak of a similar virus, SARS, infected more than 8,000 people in 37 countries before it was brought under control, killing 800 of those worldwide.

Earlier today Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director and director of health protection for PHE, said the first UK case is likely to come from somebody already in the country.

In an interview with Sky News, she said: “Our view is that, although airports are important, the most likely place that we might find a case is somebody in the country already, and it’s absolutely critical that the public health service and the NHS are ready to diagnose that and are able to designate the person to the right facilities.

“That’s the most likely scenario we are dealing with.”

Although airports are important, the most likely place that we might find a case is somebody in the country already


Professor Yvonne DoylePHE

Asked if she was alarmed about a UK case, she said: “I think, with infections, health is global.

“We’ve been here before, we’ve dealt with Middle Eastern virus, we’ve dealt with Sars, we deal with flu regularly, which can be dangerous, but we’re ready.”

And asked if there could be cases already in Britain, she said: “I would expect so.”

But she added that she believes the UK government and the NHS is “well-prepared” to handle cases here.

Stranded Brits

Prof Doyle said efforts were continuing to trace the 2,000 people who have entered the UK from China on international flights.

“We are now looking back to see whether any of them are still in the country, because some of them will have returned to China, but there are moves to identify them,” she said.

“It’s not always possible to find everybody but we are working to our best endeavours.”

Cardiff lecturer ‘stranded’ in Wuhan Yvonne Griffiths spoke to BBC Wales via Skype from her hotel room
BBC

Prof Doyle said washing hands with soap and water is more effective than wearing a face mask, although face masks are important for staff to use in hospitals when dealing with suspected cases.

And she urged anyone who has entered the UK from Wuhan and who has fallen ill with a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, to contact NHS 111.

However, it’s emerged that patients who called the 111 service had not been offered tests unless they showed signs of the virus.

A senior NHS source told the Telegraph: “Our specialists followed the official advice from Public Health England to the letter.”

It comes after the Chinese government announced on Sunday that infected people can spread the virus for up to two weeks before showing any symptoms.

However, a source at PHE has warned that the claims were not yet proven.

Risk remains low

The current risk to the public remains low, the Department of Health has said, adding that the Government is continuing to monitor the situation closely.

Earlier on Monday, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested airlifts for UK citizens in China could occur and warned of the pressure the coronavirus could put on the NHS.

Asked if he supported flying Britons back from Wuhan and elsewhere, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think I would be very sympathetic and I’m sure the Foreign Office would be too.”

Workers in protective mask disinfects a waiting hall following the outbreak of a new coronavirus at the Nanjing Railway Station
CHINANEWS
A top health chief has warned that coronavirus is likely already in the UK
EPA

He said the NHS is well-equipped to deal with patients returning with the virus but warned that it could strain the service.

“This is a very difficult time of year for the NHS – it is the most difficult time.

“But, again, my experience is that the NHS does know how to cope with these kinds of emergencies.”

The overall number of cases of coronavirus now stand at almost 8,000, with 80 deaths confirmed in China.

Lockdown

Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness.

A pair of British teachers who have been working in Wuhan say they have not left their apartment for five days, that all transport has been stopped and “there is no place to go”, and “so we are pretty much stuck”.

Jason Neal and Sophie Hunt told BBC Breakfast there has been no reassurance from the British authorities whom they have “struggled” to contact, possibly because of the time difference and them being closed over the weekend.

They have about five days of food left and are keeping in touch with colleagues online while the scene outside is now like a “ghost town”.

Where did coronavirus start? From bats to snakes – the theories on deadly virus' origins

The killer coronavirus was spread from bats to snakes to humans, experts have claimed.

An outbreak of the virus is understood to have started at an open air fish market in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which has since been put in lockdown after 25 people died and more than 600 people were infected globally.

A new study published in the China Science Bulletin this week claimed that the new coronavirus shared a strain of virus found in bats.

Previous deadly outbreaks of SARS and Ebola were also believed to have originated in the flying mammal.

Experts had thought the new virus wasn’t capable of causing an epidemic as serious as those outbreaks because its genes were different.

But this latest research appeared to prove otherwise – as scientists scrabble to produce a vaccine.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.”

Meanwhile, scientists at Peking University also claim that the deadly virus was passed to humans from bats – but say it was through a mutation in snakes.

The researchers said that the new strain is made up of a combination of one that affects bats and another unknown coronavirus.

They believe that combined genetic material from both bats and this unknown strain picked up a protein that allows viruses bind to certain host cells – including those of humans.

After analysing the genes of the strains the team found that snakes were susceptible to the most similar version of the coronavirus.

It meant that they likely provided a “reservoir” for the viral strain to grow stronger and replicate.

Snakes are sold at the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan and may have jumped to other animals before passing to humans, they claim.

But a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who asked not to be named, said the findings should be treated with caution.

He told the South China Morning Post: “It is based on calculation by a computer model.

“Whether it will match what happens in real life is inconclusive.

“The binding protein is important, but it is just one of the many things under investigation. There may be other proteins involved.”

The expert believes that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox.

Ms Hunt said emailing and trying to ring the authorities has brought a “useless automated response back from the embassy saying not to go” to the area.

She feels the Chinese authorities have made the right decision by shutting down the city, adding: “All we keep hearing is that the death toll is accelerating every day. All we can do really is sit tight and wait for more news.”

One British man, who had travelled to Wuhan to visit his girlfriend, is stuck in the city after his return flight on February 3 was cancelled, and he described trying to get out of the area as “impossible”.

The 29-year-old, who did not want to be named, told the PA news agency: “There is no news on when the airport will reopen therefore the airline (China Southern) have just cancelled the flight.


“I’ve also had no help from the UK Embassy in Beijing who are conveniently closed for the weekend.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said his “best guess” was that 100,000 people had been infected.

Authorities in China have cancelled a host of events marking Chinese New Year as they expand their measures against the virus.

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