With Africa recently confirming the first two cases of Coronavirus, scientists continue to race to understand this illness which is also known as Covid–19. The disease emerged in China in December 2019, and although it seems to have passed its peak in Asia, it has now spread to other countries and continents.
Given this, health experts fear that the respiratory illness, which is believed to have started in a food market in the city of Wuhan, may become the most severe pandemic of the 21st century so far.
How dangerous is the Coronavirus?
What makes the Coronavirus extremely dangerous is that it’s readily transmitted between humans. Its effects on specific individuals is also a concern as it causes severe respiratory disease in about 20% of people and has killed 2-3% of those infected. Older people and young children, who’s immune defences are weak, and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk and need to take extra precautions against the disease. Although there is widespread fear relating to Covid-19, at this stage, people are urged to remain calm, but cautious. As with most viral outbreaks fatalities are difficult to estimate in the early stages, but what is known is that an infected individual’s response to the disease is highly dependent on the timing and type of medical care received.
How does this virus spread?
To catch Covid–19, you need to be physically close to someone that is shedding a significant amount of the virus. As with most respiratory infections, it is most commonly spread through the air by viral particles in droplets (from coughing or sneezing). Health workers and family members are also vulnerable to infection through close physical contact with patients without proper barrier protection.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the incubation and symptoms appearing can range from two to 14 days with the most common being around five days.
Can anyone catch Coronavirus when travelling by air?
Yes, anyone can be infected with this dreadful virus when travelling by air, especially if you are sitting close to someone shedding the virus in the aircraft cabin. But this also applies to rail and public transport travel as these also require sitting near people in enclosed spaces.
Although many people associate air travel is the biggest enemy due to the perception that germs spread faster by the cabin air circulation system, this is not accurate. Modern planes are very efficient at removing viral particles. Proximity is the leading risk factor for infection regardless of what transport method you use.
There is also a small risk of infection from the virus that has survived on surfaces (door handles, stair rails, aircraft trays, seats), so it is critical to wash your hands frequently and an alcohol-based hand rub.
Do medical masks protect against infection?
Although wearing face masks seems to have become socially obligatory in some east Asian cities affected by the Coronavirus, the WHO maintains that healthy people do not need to wear a face mask unless they are taking care of a person with suspected Covid-19 infection. However, it does advise people in places where there are Covid-19 cases to wear a mask in public should they be coughing or sneezing.
The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are:
* Wash your hands frequently
* Cover sneezes and coughs with the bend of your elbow or a tissue
* Keep at least a meter away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
What happens when you are infected?
The virus multiplies within the lower respiratory tract, where symptoms will develop. Early symptoms include a fever and coughing. Most people will recover within a few days, with only about 20% of those infected developing pneumonia. The latter occurs because the lungs become inflamed, which may result in a patient needing a respirator to assist with breathing.
In severe cases, a “cytokine storm” has been reported. This occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive, overwhelming the body with cells and proteins that destroy other organs.
Can doctors tell if a patient is infected with Covid-19?
Since Chinese scientists published the genetic sequence of the virus in January 2020, laboratories across the world have been testing people for its presence. While a vaccine or cure has yet to be found, the only thing we can do is to avoid contracting the disease. This can be done by practising basic hygiene, staying clear of enclosed spaces, avoiding physical touch (hugs, handshakes and high fives) and kissing.
Furthermore, should you present signs of the disease (which simulate flu-like symptoms) it is essential to avoid contact with anyone, go to a doctor or hospital and get tested immediately so that should the tests come back positive, treatment can begin immediately.