The current viral outbreak in China and previous epidemics such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are due to an infection called coronavirus. As of Australia Day, there has been more than 50 reported deaths and the confirmation of cases in Melbourne and Sydney. The reported mortality (death) rate is 5% for the current outbreak (compared to 10% during SARS). This article explains what Coronavirus is, and how to minimise the risk of infection.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is typically a virus that replicates in living animal cells. Occasionally, it can cross over to humans and cause respiratory illnesses including fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches and potentially fatal organ insufficiency (especially in anyone who is immunity compromised). Viral experts believe the current outbreak has jumped across from bats, and shares 80% of its genetic code as the SARS virus. Analysing its genetic code has confirmed this is a new Coronavirus, and enabled authorities to work on a vaccine which is some weeks away.

How can you get it?

The current outbreak poses a risk through direct exposure to those already infected or have visited infected areas. Infection can be spread prior to the onset of symptoms. Spread occurs through respiratory droplets such as coughing, sneezing, surfaces that harbour the virus and in the air.

How can I protect myself and my family? 

To minimise the risk of infection, we need to focus on avoiding exposure, quarantining suspected cases and tracing contacts, and infection control. Similar to flu-avoidance, the preventative measures include:

  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly
  • Cover when sneezing or coughing
  • Refrain from visiting China, airports and crowded places
  • Avoid anyone with flu-like symptoms
  • Minimise trips to farms or exposure to wild animals
  • Enjoy meat and eggs fully cooked
  • If you work in healthcare or in crowded places, wear a mask (ideally a N95 respirator)

Where do I get more information?

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your Osana Health Assistant or GP. Relevant up-to-date websites include the Health Department and situation reports from the World Health Organisation:


Anyone with flu-like symptoms should rest, keep up their fluid intake and take paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever and muscle aches. Consider a phone or video consultation with your GP to assess whether you need further medical attention.