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How Canadian weather can impact the spread of coronavirus

Friday, January 31st 2020, 5:39 pm - A pharmacist weighs in on the coronavirus and the risk to Canadians.

Coronavirus has quickly taken over global headlines.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared it a "public health emergency of international concern".

But even with all the alarming coverage, health officials say the risk is low within Canada. Since the global spread of the virus is happening during our flu season, we wanted to know how different types of weather impact coronavirus.

We spoke with pharmacist Victor Wong to understand what we know — and still don’t know — and what precautions we should take.

Q: Firstly, what is the coronavirus?

A: There are many different types of coronaviruses, including ones that cause the common cold. But this novel coronavirus is different because it seems to have originated from an animal carrier, mutated, and was transmitted to human beings. Just like the common cold, the novel coronavirus seems to be transmitted through particles in the air, particles on surfaces, and through direct human to human contact. The symptoms of this virus include fever, followed by cough, and sometimes acute respiratory distress that may require hospitalization. There is no vaccine to prevent this virus currently, so we must practise good hygiene protocols to reduce the chance of infection. Many people may not realize but SARS was a coronavirus as well. The general population just gave it the name “SARS”. Some are already calling this one the Wuhan Virus.

Q: This virus is said to spread like the flu, meaning coughing, sneezing, touching your face, etc. will act as a catalyst to infect people. Since this outbreak is happening during our flu season, can you let us know the role weather plays in the spread of a virus?

A: Human behaviour changes during the colder months and we tend to spend more time indoors and in close contact with each other. This means we are more likely to touch things that may have been infected by sick individuals or breathe in the remnants of their cough or sneeze.

Some studies show that there are viruses that replicate and spread more efficiently in the cold weather, such as the rhinovirus, but we don’t have any information whether this is the case with the coronavirus.

In general, the air is very dry in colder weather because at lower temperatures that can’t hold as much water. When humidity is high, heavier virus-infected droplets that we breathe or sneeze out, fall to the ground relatively quickly. This fall to the ground lowers their chance of spreading.

In dry air, the viruses can break up into smaller particles and float around further.

Q: Are there any other weather factors that could help the virus spread?

A: Lack of moisture in the air can also dry out the mucous lining in the nose, so it is easier for viruses to get past that line of defence. Some people don’t get enough sunlight in the winter, creating a deficiency in vitamin D. Since vitamin D helps to power our immune system, lower vitamin D means lower defences to fight against viruses.

Q: As we go through February, what should Canadians know about the Coronavirus?

A: The most important method of prevention is good hygiene practices.

Tips on how to prevent infection include:

  • Wash hands with soap for 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue and throw it out.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Don’t touch your face with your hands.

I also would recommend to regularly check for new information from Health Canada, CDC, and the WHO.

Thumbnail image courtesy: Wikipedia.

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