The World Health Organization has had a busy couple of weeks keeping track of three deadly strains across the world, and world travelers have probably been equally overcome with fear. And while the public-health group has been realistic in combatting a worldwide freakout — at least it's been a bit more proactive than local governments in check-ups on novel coronavirus, Chinese bird flu, and now wild polio in Africa — the WHO did confirm over the weekend that the SARS cousin, NCoV, can spread between humans in the same room. If you're already afraid of humans in the same room as you, here's how to responsibly freak out on the viral news before it goes viral in the wrong way.
You should freak out if ... you've recently visited China, France, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.
Because if you haven't been to any of those four countries of late, none of the three viruses have escaped them. The new bird flu, H7N9, has spread across the provinces of China. The newest cases of NCoV were found in France after a traveler came from Dubai — the United Arab Emirates still don't face a threat, but a large number of cases of the disease stem from Saudi Arabia. Oh, yeah, and the WHO issued an alert on Saturday that "wild poliovirus" was found in Somalia — preliminarily, but still: a confirmation that it was spreading "would constitute a serious national and international risk to public health." But even for the far-flung, there's this....
If you have been to China, you should only freak out if... you like to hang out with people who hang out with Chinese poultry farmers.
Because if it was the pig-bat in Contagion, it's the chicken in China. Though there have been reported cases of bird flu in Chinese people who were not exposed to poultry, WHO and Chinese health officials continue to stress that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of H7N9. So: Most of the people who got the disease were exposed to poultry, and most of the people who got it who weren't exposed to poultry were exposed to other infected people, like family members, for too long — but there's not enough evidence that, you know, you'll be getting the bird flu by touching the same subway strap in Shanghai on your business trip.
In fact, Shanghai put a halt to its emergency response to H7N9 over the weekend, Forbes's Russell Flannery reported. The city "will end its emergency response measures following the absence of new cases in the past 20 days," Flannery reports, gleaning information from local reports throughout the region. See that? No new cases in 20 days. Take a chill pill.
If you're really freaking out about bid flu, you should only freak out if... you're older than 60.
As Business Insider's Jennifer Welsh reports, fever is one of the symptoms of bird flu — along with pneumonia and respiratory failure. But the people who have died from H7N9, or are suffering from it, tend to be older people with weaker immune systems. "What we're seeing is that half the serious cases are above 60 years of age," Benjamin Cowling, associate professor at HKU's public health research center, told CNN.
What's more, China's Global Times reported on Monday that a 31-year-old in Taiwan made a full recovery. More good news for the young and previously healthy: another recovery story includes a 4-year-old boy. "To date, a total of 131 laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus including 32 deaths have been reported to WHO," reads the latest update from the WHO, meaning the majority of people infected have recovered. Which is a good thing!
If you're not really freaking out about bid flu, you should freak out if... you're in a hospital in France next to a guy with the NCoV virus.
For someone to give you NCoV, especially that case in France — they're up to two confirmed cases there, actually — at this point you would have had to share a room with patient zero. The second French case appears to be roommate: "A person who shared a hospital room with a patient who has a newly discovered and sometimes deadly virus also has tested positive for the infection, the French Health Ministry," CNN reported. And according to the WHO, the second patient shared that hospital room for two days. But! Good news! The WHO says there were up to 120 people identified as in contact with that first French patient — so you've got good odds:
Among 120 persons identified as contacts of the first laboratory-confirmed case in France, laboratory tests were conducted by Pasteur Institute in Paris on five suspected cases, of which four tested negative, one (mentioned above) tested positive.
You should also freak out if... you've been hanging out with someone from Saudi Arabia (who was hanging out with someone with NCoV).
The majority of the SARS-like virus cases stem from Saudi Arabia — 23 of the 30 cases reported in the last official WHO update. That number grew to 34 with the two French cases and two more from Saudi Arabia, and 18 of those 34 have died, the WHO reported on Sunday. On the flip side: Have you really been in a hospital room with one of 23 really sick people in Saudia Arabia this year? Even so, the WHO believes there's no real proof of sustained human-to-human transmission with NCoV, either. The group said in a statement:
"This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence to suggest the virus has the capacity to sustain generalised transmission in communities."
If you have been hanging out in a Saudi hospital, you should only freak out if... you haven't seen a doctor yet.
"The first cases had onset of illness in late March or early April 2012; the most recent cases reported had onset on 1 May 2013," reads the new WHO report on NCoV. Those recent cases are the two French cases, where the two patients shared a room from April 27-29. So basically, if you're only getting sick now, with this serious disease, you're probably already in the hospital since you've been harboring this disease since the end of April.
Granted, if you're a flagrant germaphobe, there's nothing we can say that will make you sleep easier. But if doctors at WHO — along with doctors in countries like France, China, and Saudi Arabia — are all telling you that it's very difficult to pass these diseases around, then it might be worth believing them. But whatever you do, do not click this "this "wild polio" outbreak alert. Unless you've been to Somalia, where it's pretty scary.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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