Understandably, there is a lot of panic surrounding the 2019 novel coronavirus henceforth called COVID-19. The situation with the disease is changing rapidly. More is being learned every day.
What’s In The Name?
In the beginning, the word novel was being used which means “new”. This is a new virus meaning that although it comes from the same genetically related corona-family of viruses we’ve seen before (i.e. SARS and MERS) it is not the same. The disease is being called COVID-19. The virus causing the disease has been named SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2).
Currently, there is no vaccine and no one has previous immunity to it. There is not a lot of historical research we can rely on which would tell us precise details about it.
However, I feel like we could all use a little of the “Keep calm and….” logic right now. I’d like to introduce this one. Can someone make me a sign, please? It should read,
KEEP CALM and…. WASH your hands! #COVID19”.
It sounds like simple advice, but it is truly more difficult than you would think – especially if you are a family with children. More on that later.AA
What Are the Symptoms?
COVID-19 has been compared a lot to seasonal influenza recently which is easier for us to wrap our minds around. The symptoms are similar: influenza and COVID-19 are both infectious respiratory viruses which cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea. The diseases can be mild to severe resulting in pneumonia and can be even fatal in rare cases.
How Do You Get It?
Both influenza and COVID-19 spread person to person over a short distance via viruses which are carried within droplets emitted from a person by coughing or sneezing. These droplets then come into contact with your eyes, nose or mouth.
It’s also possible for you to be exposed by surface contact which is when you touch a surface with the droplets on them. You then introduce the virus to yourself by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands. The virus is thought to live on surfaces for up to several days unless the surface has been properly cleansed.
You are likely to be exposed to the virus by travelling to a community in which COVID-19 is widespread or by making contact with someone who has COVID-19. When travelling, make sure you are screened at points of entry (borders and airports) for early diagnosis and treatment. Ensure you are honest about your travel history.
So far COVID-19 seems more transmissible but less deadly than SARS (2003 outbreak). Also, the human to human transmission rate appears to be higher than that of SARS.
Currently, there isn’t any evidence of airborne transmission (unlike chickenpox which is transported via air currents). The virus is thought to be most transmissible/infectious when a patient has symptoms, yet some evidence suggests that it could be spread during the incubation period which is the time period when a person has not yet developed symptoms, though this is uncommon and only in isolated cases so far.
The incubation period could be 2-14 days* (*based on what was seen previously seen with MERS) before symptoms develop.
How Do You Treat It?
Unfortunately, the only treatment is symptom management. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses (only against bacterial infections). Usually, treatment involves reducing fever, treating dehydration, or stabilizing breathing.
Anti-virals (which have been historically used with influenza within a narrow window of developing symptoms) are being tested to see if they are effective at lessening the severity and course of illness. A vaccine is currently being developed. However, it is likely more than a year away by the time human trials commence and mass distribution is available.
Quarantine is only implemented with confirmed cases and close contacts of confirmed cases. If an infected person has walked past in malls or hotels, etc. then the risk of transmission is low.
How Do You Prevent COVID-19?
Remember my “Keep calm and wash your hands” mantra? COVID-19, influenza, and most common colds are prevented the same way: wash hands and sneeze/cough into a flexed elbow, stay at home when sick and limit contact with infected people. When you cough or sneeze into a tissue, throw it in the trash (preferably a covered bin).
COVID-19 is the wake-up call we all needed about protecting ourselves by practising good personal hygiene. Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (Sing Happy Birthday to yourself TWICE!) and avoid touching your face with your hands.
It seems simple, but it is the most effective in preventing infection from all kinds of sources. Also effective: watching the Brainchild episode on germs via Netflix. My daughter is pretty sure she will never eat again after watching it.
Other good hygiene practices: do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, and hand towels. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
Cleanse all “high-touch” surfaces every day such as counters, tables, doorknobs, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Use commercially available sanitizers or soap/warm water.
Protect others – your loved ones and your community. If you are sick, rest and recover at home, but if you need to leave to see a doctor then wear a surgical mask to protect others. Masks are only needed when you are unwell and must go out.
Masks on healthy people offer no protection when touching contaminated surfaces, they give you a false sense of security and will likely lead to you getting something from constantly touching your face to adjust your mask.
*Healthcare workers should wear N95 grade masks to prevent exposure from infected patients.*
Speaking of protecting yourself and others, don’t forget to get you seasonal influenza shot due to come out within the month! While people are panicking about COVID-19, we do have tools necessary to protect ourselves from seasonal influenza.
Stop The Stigma
For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are no longer considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.
Please don’t spread stereotypes about not shopping/dining in certain areas where a nationality may work/reside.
Where Can I Get The Latest Information?
In Botswana, call the Ministry of Health and Wellness 08100 600 740 or call centre 3632273/ 2756/ 2757 or visit https://www.moh.gov.bw/coronavirus.html
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