In December 2019, an outbreak of a new virus strain of the coronavirus family (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of the common cold are also in this family) rocked the world. Emanating from Wuhan, China, the new strain of coronavirus (now named COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 virus) was identified in January and has now spread to 197 countries and territories of the world with over 579000 infections, almost 30,000 deaths, and over 140,000 recoveries as of March 28, 2020.
This global emergency has led to the shutdown of many cities, businesses and events globally to curtail spread and reduce mortalities. Each day, there are thousands of new coronavirus infections. The global pandemic was transmitted from animals to humans in the first few cases identified but human to human transmission is now the main mode of spread. This occurs primarily via:
- Airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- Touching surfaces or objects with the virus on it then touching the eyes or the mouth.
- Close contact with affected persons.
The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for several hours, but simple disinfectants can kill it. So far, 95% of identified cases have been mild with a flu-like illness requiring minimal to moderate medical care. Some 5% of cases have required intensive care unit admission and ventilatory support. The most at-risk people are children, the elderly and the sick especially people with cancers, chronic respiratory conditions and other immune lowering conditions like HIV and diabetes. Smokers are also at risk of having serious complications.
So far, symptoms such as fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and diarrhoea have been noted to occur between 1 and 14 days of contact with the virus (from meeting with an infected person). However, newly infected people may spread viruses before they start having symptoms and may even show symptoms as early as five days after contracting the virus. In some cases, affected persons may not even show any symptoms (asymptomatic). It is estimated that each infected person spreads the virus to about 3 people.
How to protect yourself and your loved ones
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. When you make contact with doorknobs, money or other surfaces, wash your hands. Washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be a priority to maintain proper hand hygiene. Washing your hands kills viruses that may be on your hands thereby protecting you.
- When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue paper. Discard tissue paper after usage and wash our hands.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes or nose indiscriminately. When you pick up the virus from touching surfaces, you may infect yourself by touching your eyes and face.
- Stay at home. Limit movement to the outside by only going out when necessary and never to crowded places. Ensure social distancing when you are out. This entails maintaining 2 meters or 6 feet away from the next person. This helps you avoid being in their direct paths when they cough or sneeze as the virus may be spread via respiratory droplets.
- If you have a cold or feel sick, isolate yourself at home for 14 days to reduce the risk of spread to other people.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough and refer them to a nearby facility immediately if they have breathing difficulties or become seriously ill. Otherwise, offer them a face mask and let them self-isolate for 14 days. If you are not sick or caring for a sick person, you do not need to wear a face mask. This is how to wear a mask properly.
- Clean and disinfect frequently contacted surfaces like doorknobs, phones, keyboards, light switches and faucets daily. Here is a guide to disinfecting your items.
- Follow local guidelines from your health authority and other recommendations for best practices in your country.
Currently, there are no vaccines or preventive medications for this condition and while research is ongoing about probable therapies, vaccines and dosages, it is imperative NOT to self-medicate or use non-approved medications if you think you have the virus. We expect progress to be made in the coming months concerning research for more rapid and accurate test kits as well as therapies and vaccines. Treatment at present is largely focused on providing support to the affected person and to treat symptoms as they come up. The infected person is admitted to the isolation unit to limit spread to other people. We all have a role to play in flattening the curve and bringing an end to this quickly. Play your part and protect yourself and others by following the steps above.