The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus a pandemic. Coronaviruses are named for the spikes that protrude from their surfaces, resembling a crown or the sun’s corona. They can infect both animals and people and can cause illnesses of the respiratory tract.
Symptoms of COVID-19 have ranged from mild, such as those of a cold, to severe. Around 80 per cent of confirmed cases are mild. It is still possible that there are a number of mild cases of the illness that have not been reported which would shrink the percentage of cases that are severe.
In about 15 per cent of people, the illness is severe enough that they need to be hospitalised, and about five per cent of cases are critical. Half of the people with critical cases of the illness die from it.
As grim as these statistics look, health experts say COVID-19 can be easily prevented by a few simple changes in our lifestyle. One big important prevention is to stop touching your face.
Human beings are known to touch their faces regularly, sometimes unconsciously. Studies have shown that we are particularly prone to touching our chins and the areas around the mouth, nose and eyes, the key gateways for the coronaviruses to enter our bodies.
Touching your face
Public health experts around the globe are appealing to the public to desist from touching their face. They recommend trying different tools that will help reduce the number of times people touch their faces.
“This is when a mask comes in handy by cutting off access to the soft spots (eyes, nose, mouth). You should also make a deliberate decision not to touch your face. You could ask family members or colleagues to remind you the moment it seems like you are about to touch your face,” Dr Moses Semweya, a general practitioner, advises.
However, to be on the safe side, the doctor advises the public to wash their hands properly. “Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds or for as long as you can sing happy birthday twice to yourself. Wash your hands when you touch money or surfaces such as tables, switches, door handles and or doorknobs, among others and when you shake hands. Also, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser in cases you cannot access water and soap,” Dr Semweya says.
He adds that if someone touches surfaces that have viruses and touches their eyes, mouth or nose, they get infected. Early research shows that the virus can linger on surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for a few days, which is why it is important to clean places people touch regularly.
Ministry of Health officials also recommend other preventive measures such as sneezing into our sleeves if one has no access to clean tissues. Cover your mouth when you cough, and stay away from people who are ill. Stay at home if you are feeling sick and if you are older or have a chronic health condition, which makes you more likely to have a severe case of the disease, you are advised to stay away from crowded places in order to minimise chances of infection.
The minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng recommends drinking at least three litres of fluids every day, eating a balanced diet, especially vegetables and fruits to enable the immune system fight off the infection.
Case for social distancing
Experts reveal that a young, healthy person might not feel sick once infected with COVID-19 yet they have the disease and can still infect others. According to a study done by viral experts Roman Woelfel, Victor Max Cormanmed and others, of nine people in Germany with mild cases of the illness had high levels of the virus in their throats early on in the course of the disease, before they felt very sick. That may mean that people can spread the virus before they know they have it.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people without symptoms still have high levels of the virus in their throats and noses, so they may pass it on through coughing and sneezing. It is estimated by health researchers that each sick person will go on to infect, on average, two to three people.
“The higher the number, the easier the disease is spread. For comparison, the R0 for SARS was between two and five. But that does not mean each sick person will actually infect that many people; quarantines and other actions taken to control outbreaks of a virus can bring down the number of people a sick person infects,” reveals the study.
How far it has spread
The number of new infections reported in China has been declining, which indicated to WHO officials that transmission was slowing down and that their containment measures were working.
Now, the WHO says, the epicenter of the pandemic is in Europe, which now has more new cases reported each day than China did at the height of its outbreak.
There are now more than 630 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the continent, with a number of African countries imposing a range of prevention and containment measures against the spread of the pandemic.
According to the latest data, of the WHO on COVID-19 in Africa, there are rising cases with a sizeable number of countries holding out. Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by WHO and additional sources, puts the total number of cases worldwide at more than 218,800, with at least 8,800 deaths.
So far, two or three per cent of people who get sick with COVID-19 die, although it is too early to say for sure. Also, those numbers may change as the outbreak progresses.
Different groups of people, though, are more at risk of having a severe case of the illness or of dying from it. Most deaths in this outbreak have been in older people and those who have underlying health issues, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Children seem less likely to be infected with the new coronavirus, while middle-aged and older adults are disproportionately infected. Men are more likely to die from an infection compared to women, possibly because they produce weaker immune responses and have higher rates of tobacco consumption, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Symptoms of this infection include fever, cough and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The illness causes lung lesions and pneumonia.
But milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection difficult. Patients may exhibit other symptoms, too, such as gastrointestinal problems or diarrhoea.
Current estimates suggest that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. If you have a fever or a cough and recently visited China, South Korea, Italy or another place with a known coronavirus outbreak, or spent time with someone who did, see your health care provider.
Call first, so the office can prepare for your visit and take steps to protect other patients and staff from potential exposure.
It is, however important to note that a number of people with mild infections recover in about two weeks. More than half of those who have been infected globally have already recovered.
Where did the virus come from?
Coronaviruses are common in animals of all kinds, and they can sometimes evolve into forms that can infect humans. Since the start of the century, two other coronaviruses have jumped to humans, causing the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012.
Scientists think this new virus first became capable of jumping to humans at the beginning of December. It originally seemed like the virus first infected people at a seafood market in Wuhan and spread from there.
The type of animal the virus originated from is not clear, although one analysis found that the genetic sequence of the new virus is 96 per cent identical to one coronavirus found in bats. Both SARS and MERS originated in bats.
Should I travel?
The president issued a travel advisory for Ugandans listing a number of countries under the ban.