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FAQ's on coronavirus

Coronavirus: what you have to know about the disease

When you read a newspaper or turn on the TV these days, the topic of discussion is often the coronavirus. Some of the news is a bit too sensational, but there’s clearly something going on. To prevent unnecessary panic, UAntwerp specialists would like to give you the facts. Depending on how the epidemic evolves, this page will be updated regularly.

Let's start with the most important thing: there’s no need for panic, at the university or elsewhere, not even now that the disease has been diagnosed in Belgium. There are good procedures in place to detect and limit infection, and the majority of infections are ‘self-limiting’, meaning they go away on their own without treatment.

The university has made a list of some frequently asked questions.

If you have any more questions about this topic, please send an email to coronavirus@uantwerpen.be

FAQ's

What are coronaviruses?

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses which cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Coronaviruses are originally zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people, although transmission from human to human is also possible.

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. 


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What is 2019-nCoV?

What is 2019-nCoV?

2019-nCoV is the name of a newly discovered coronavirus involved in the current outbreak which started in December in Wuhan, China.

The first cases of this outbreak were described on 31 December 2019. By 7 January, a new virus had been identified by Chinese scientists as the cause of this outbreak, and it was named temporarily ‘2019-nCoV’.

Four weeks since the first detection, the disease has spread worldwide. As the epidemic is still evolving at the time of writing, the figures and the number of countries affected are evolving rapidly.

For a more complete picture of the epidemic
See the dedicated webpage of the World Health Organization (WHO)


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How do people become infected with 2019-nCoV?

How do people become infected with 2019-nCoV?

As this is a very recent outbreak, much is still unclear regarding the transmission of 2019-nCoV and the spectrum of disease it causes. A significant proportion of the first patients had visited a large seafood market (Wuhan South China Seafood City market) prior to their illness, which suggests an epidemiological link with certain animals sold at the market.

In addition, human-to-human transmission of this virus has also been reported, including health care workers and some family clusters, warranting the use of protective measures such as gloves, glasses, gowns and masks while taking care of patients.

At present, we lack solid information on the extent and importance of this human-to-human transmission. In addition, the 2019-nCoV has been found as well in faeces from patients; the importance of this finding is still unclear at the moment. In-depth research into all possible ways of transmission will be essential and is ongoing at the moment.


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Can an infection with 2019-nCoV be treated?

Can an infection with 2019-nCoV be treated?

At present there are no proven effective antiviral or other treatments available; trials with several antiviral drugs are currently ongoing in China and elsewhere.

Based on the current data, the mortality of this infection is estimated to be about 2-3%, but will probably be less than 1% because many cases are not admitted to hospital and are therefore not included in the calculations. This means that a large proportion of affected people seem to be able to clear this infection with their own immune systems.

In contrast, about 15% of all patients with 2019-nCoV infection are severely ill and need hospitalisation; about 10-15% of them die in the hospital. As a comparison, the average in-hospital mortality due to seasonal influenza in Belgium is 5-6%. Most people who have died from 2019-nCoV infection were males over 60 years old and had other underlying diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension or immune-suppressing diseases.


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What are the symptoms?

What are the symptoms?

So far, the incubation period has been found to be 2-14 days, although newer data suggest average incubation periods as short as 5-7 days. The main symptoms are very difficult to distinguish from other respiratory infections:

  • acute fever
  • cough
  • muscle pain
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • sometimes diarrhoea
  • Several patients have shown signs of pneumonia on a chest X-Ray.

Our knowledge of the scope of symptoms, including the possible role of asymptomatic carriers, is likely to increase over the next few weeks and months, as more information on the current cases becomes available.

Clearly, the aspecific nature of the symptoms makes this new disease difficult to distinguish from other seasonal respiratory infections.


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Are we prepared for patients with 2019-nCoV-infection in Belgium?

Are we prepared for patients with 2019-nCoV-infection in Belgium?

Given the magnitude of the current outbreak in China and its spread to several other countries, the occasional infected person(s) may arrive in Belgium.

Hospitals and general practitioners in Belgium have been informed of the measures that need to be taken, and the guidelines are being constantly updated based on new data.

In the event that a patient is diagnosed with a 2019-nCoV infection, all people he or she has recently been in contact with will also be traced and followed up closely.


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Who needs to be tested for infection by 2019-nCoV, and how does that happen?

Who needs to be tested for infection by 2019-nCoV, and how does that happen?

Only people who have been travelling or residing in China in the past 14 days AND who have clear symptoms of severe respiratory tract infection (cough with fever) should be evaluated for possible infection with 2019-nCoV. Among people returning from Hubei in the past 14 days, also those with mild symptoms will be tested.

The following people are NOT tested at the moment:

  • People who have no travel history to China over the past 14 days, or who have not been in close contact with someone who has travelled to China in the last 14 days, even if they develop symptoms like fever and coughing.
     
  • People who have travelled to China in the past 14 days but who have no physical complaints.

About the test
The test, which screens for a specific genetic code unique to this virus, is carried out on a throat and deep nasal swab. The person to be tested is temporarily placed in an isolation room while waiting for the test results (6-8 hours on average). Tests are carried out at the National Reference Laboratory for respiratory viruses (UZ Leuven), at Sciensano and soon at the UZA laboratory as well.

  • If the test result comes back negative (i.e. 2019-nCoV not found), the person may return home.
     
  • If the test result comes back positive (i.e. 2019-nCoV was detected), the person will remain in hospital and be taken care of in isolation for the duration of the illness.


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How can I prevent infection with 2019-nCoV ?

How can I prevent infection with 2019-nCoV ?

Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic bullet’ to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. There is no vaccine or preventive treatment yet.

The use of masks by the general public has not been proven to be effective in preventing the disease on their own. They are difficult to fit properly and they lose their filter capacity once they become wet due to condensation of breath. Therefore they are not recommended.

Nevertheless, there is a set of general hygienic measures which have been recommended by the WHO to prevent the spread of the infection:

  • Frequently clean hands using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
     
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
     
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough;
     
  • If you have fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.

Read more advice on World Health Organization


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Can UAntwerp students and staff travel to China/Asia?

Can UAntwerp students and staff travel to China/Asia?

On 23 January 2020, UAntwerp decided to temporarily suspend all planned travel to China for the purposes of study, research or conferences until further notice.

The main reason behind this decision is not just the risk of infection with 2019-nCoV, but also the unpredictable nature of the epidemic and the associated risk of social disruption in the affected areas, including difficulties in getting medical treatment when hospitals are overburdened by 2019-nCoV patients or quarantine restrictions, which make it impossible to travel back home.

This measure was not taken lightly and its necessity will be constantly evaluated.

Preparations for travel later in the year (e.g. selections for the summer schools taking place in China) can still be made, but it is best to wait before purchasing tickets and making other financial commitments until the situation has improved and the travel ban is lifted, or take out cancellation insurance.

UAntwerp-related travel by students and staff to other Asian countries can continue until further notice.


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What happens to staff and students travelling (back) from China to UAntwerp?

What happens to staff and students travelling (back) from China to UAntwerp?

The WHO has not issued travel restrictions for Chinese citizens (although the Chinese authorities have done so for their citizens), nor has the Belgian government issued entry restrictions for them. This means there is no restriction on Chinese students and researchers travelling to Belgium to carry out planned study or work visits to UAntwerp.

However, international travel may involve additional risks for travellers and the people they come into contact with. Therefore, as a protective measure for travellers and the community, and on a case by case basis, it may be wise to discuss with your Chinese colleagues options for postponing planned trips until the epidemic situation is under control globally.

If a visit nevertheless takes place as planned, then the advice below should be taken into account:

  • At present, there is no diagnostic screening nor formal quarantine among regular, healthy people travelling from China into Belgium, although the Chinese embassy has asked their citizens to apply a 14-day period of self-quarantine at home when they are abroad. This is also the recommendation at the University of Antwerp for all incoming students and staff coming back or traveling from China to Belgium.
     
  • In addition, all visitors, students or staff members returning from China within 14 days should monitor their health carefully by taking their temperature and watching for other possible symptoms during the first 14 days after their departure, and they should seek medical treatment in case of illness:
    • Visitors and students can contact a general practitioner through the Huisartsenwachtpost
       
    • He/she will examine the person and, if necessary, prescribe medicines or send them to hospital for testing or treatment with a referral letter.
       
    • An appointment with a general practitioner costs +/-€ 25, to be paid in cash. Most doctors also offer the option to pay by card. After the consultation, the doctor will issue a receipt for the health insurance provider.
       
    • During weekends and holidays, it is possible to see a doctor at an out-of-hours GP centre (Huisartsenwachtpost). More info, contact details and rates
       
    • In case of an emergency, you can get help at the Emergency Department of UZA (Antwerp University Hospital), but keep in mind that you should only go there for really urgent cases. The cost for a consultation there is higher.


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I have a specific question!

I have a specific question

This page provides general information about the 2019-nCoV virus and some practical guidelines for prevention and control, but students and staff may well have some very specific questions.

For more information
Please contact coronavirus@uantwerpen.be


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Where can I find additional information?

Where can I find additional information?

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Specific questions

coronavirus@uantwerpen.be