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February 29, 2020

Some coronavirus facts


February 29, 2020

The much talked about Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) needs some serious and valid communication strategy to create awareness among the general population.

The government has to do its bit to communicate about where this virus came from, how it spreads and how to prevent it in one’s personal capacity. Since there are a lot of misconceptions around the disease, separating valid from invalid information can help the already anxious population in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has prepared and shared some key facts and considerations in this regard which can be communicated in simple terms to the public. Although continuously working to update its own findings, the WHO has set some basic facts right for everyone to consult and benefit from.

The coronavirus comes from a large family of viruses which, like other viruses, is contracted by animals. In humans many types of coronaviruses are known, and which cause respiratory infections. These infections range from the common cold to acute diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the most recently discovered infection that comes from the same family.

The most common symptoms of COVID 19 are fever, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, nasal congestion and tiredness. Some people may not show symptoms until the virus has progressed by about 50 percent. The symptoms are usually mild and kickstart gradually. Most of the infected persons recover from COVID-19 without having received any special medical attention. The older population and people with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiac problems or diabetes are more at risk. Up till now about two percent of people with this disease have died.

The virus can be spread from people who already have caught the virus. It spreads from human to human through small droplets passed by nose or mouth via cough or exhales by the COVID-19 infected person. The droplets reach the objects and surfaces nearby and is then caught by other people who touch the same objects and surfaces, while touching their nose, eyes or mouth. It is important to stay three meters away from any person who is sick. It is, however, unknown how long they live on the surfaces.

COVID-19 is worse than the normal influenza because unlike the latter, there is no vaccine available to fight off COVID-19. It spreads quicker than the normal influenza, that is why it can turn into an outbreak. Each COVID-19 infected person can infect two to three persons as compared to the seasonal flu which on average can be transmitted to about one person. Another difference is that of the disease’ incubation period; which for COVID-19 is about 2-14 days while for influenza it’s about 2-3 days.

It can be said that COVID-19 is worse than influenza but less bad than SARS and MERS due to their quite high mortality rates.

We can take several preventive measures unless the menace is controlled. Restricting international travel for about 3-4 weeks can lower the chances of catching the virus. Avoiding travel to affected areas – China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Italy and Iran – can also minimize the risk of getting affected. Cars can be used for domestic travel instead of using planes and trains. The key here is to avoid contact with bigger crowds. Wearing masks and keeping away from a sick person can also help prevent the transmission.

Another sensible step is to get a flu vaccine which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic. The survival time of the virus is not known, but studies suggest that it behaves like other viruses – and so may survive for hours or up to several days depending on the type, temperature and environment of the surface. If you think that the surface or object is infected, you may clean it with simple disinfectant or alcohol-based rub or wash them with soap and water. Strictly avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Ensure good food safety standards by handling raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid any possible contamination. Follow good respiratory and general hygiene. Lastly and most importantly, if you catch the virus, keep away from others. Since its spread is faster than other viruses, this is the best you can do to prevent its transmission to others.

By large, scientific evidence does not support any of the myths about COVID-19 which are most talked about in Pakistan: companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have not been found infected or transmitters of the virus that causes COVID-19. It is also safe to receive a package from an affected country because the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low. To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medication to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work

In the instance of having fever, cough and difficulty breathing, immediately seek medical care to reduce the risk of developing a more serious infection. Be continuously aware of your surroundings and take preventive measures to avoid catching the virus that causes COVID-19.

Knowing all this, it is understandable that we may feel stressed and anxious about the situation. It is always good to get the facts to help us accurately determine our risks so that one can take precautions. In this age of excess information, it is important to be rightly informed of the situation and take appropriate measures to protect ourselves.

The writer is a public healthexpert with specialization in health economics.

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