COVID-19: debunking myths about the new coronavirus Featured

By Priscilla Owusu March 17, 2020 404 3 comments

Personal hygiene is better than no cure, says our correspondent.

As the novel coronavirus continues to infect people around the world, news articles and social media posts about the outbreak have swamped phones and the internet. Unfortunately, this relentless flood of information can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction, and during a viral outbreak rumours and misinformation can be dangerous.

Before demystifying the many misconceptions, it is important you know how the virus spreads. The new variant of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, spreads from person to person in close proximity, similarly to other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.

Droplets of body fluids such as saliva or mucus from an infected person are dispersed in the air and on to surfaces by coughing or sneezing. These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face.

According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to ten minutes.

It is not yet known how long the virus can survive outside a host but, in the case of other viruses, it ranges from a few hours to months.

Transmission is of particular concern on transport, where droplets containing the coronavirus could pass between passengers or through surfaces such as aeroplane seats and armrests. The incubation period of the coronavirus – the length of time before symptoms appear – is between one and 14 days. Although this is not yet confirmed, Chinese health officials believe the virus can be transmitted long before symptoms appear.

Can face masks protect me?

Many shops and pharmacy outlets have sold out of surgical face masks as many people believe they can protect you from getting infected. Medical experts say this is false, as standard surgical masks cannot protect you. They are not designed to block out viral particles and do not lie flush on the face, leaving space around the edges where infected droplets can slip in.

However, surgical masks can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus further by blocking any respiratory droplets that could be expelled from their mouths.

Within health-care facilities, special respirators called “N95 respirators” have been shown to reduce greatly the spread of the virus among medical staff.

Use and fitting of N95 respirators requires special training and most non-specialist staff find them very uncomfortable to wear; consequently, use of these should be restricted to medical workers such as paramedics, nurses and doctors. Wearers must also learn to check the equipment for damage after each use.

Depopulation tactic?

The main reason for the general panic is that many people believe getting infected is a death sentence, and that the virus will be a means of reducing the world’s population.

That is not true. Some evidence suggests that the virus is man-made. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, closely resembles two other coronaviruses which have triggered outbreaks in recent decades – SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV – and all three viruses seem to have originated in bats. In short, the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 fall in line with what we know about other naturally occurring coronaviruses that made the jump from animals to people.

In addition, one study suggests that roughly 81 per cent of people who are infected with the coronavirus have mild cases of COVID-19. About 13.8 per cent report severe illness (they are short of breath, or require supplemental oxygen) and about 4.7 per cent are critical, meaning they face respiratory failure, multi-organ failure or septic shock.

The data so far suggests that it is only about 2.3 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 who die from the virus. Older people or those who have underlying health conditions seem to be most at risk of developing severe disease or complications.

Are black people and children immune?

Some people have made jokes on the internet on how black people cannot become infected because of the melanin in their genetic make-up; others have said young people do not get the virus.

Both claims are false. Anyone, regardless of race, gender, age and ethnicity, can get the virus. Any person who comes into close contact with someone who is infected is at risk of contracting the virus.

Children can definitely catch COVID-19, though initial reports suggest fewer cases in children than adults. A Chinese study released in February from Hubei Province, the centre of the global crisis, found that out of more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19, about only 2.2 per cent involved children under the age of 19.

However, more recent studies suggest children are as likely as adults to become infected. Nature News reports that researchers analysed data from more than 1,500 people in Shenzhen and found that children potentially exposed to the virus were just as likely to become infected as were adults. Between 7 and 8 per cent of contacts of COVID-19 cases later tested positive for the virus, regardless of age.

Heat can kill the virus

Sorry to burst the African “heat can kill the virus” bubble. Although health experts agree that warmer weather is a factor in containing the outbreak, they stress that the outcome of each country’s response may depend on how robust its health-care infrastructure is, how quickly those tools are deployed, and how proactive citizens are.

They also say there are other crucial variables to consider in fighting the infection, warning that simply relying on weather patterns without observing safety precautions and other health protocols invites risk.

Even as the weather warms up, the coronavirus may survive for days at temperatures up to 25°C (77°F), a study said. The study showed that a human coronavirus could persist for five days at 21°C (69.8°F) on a Teflon, ceramic or steel surface. In comparison, the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus could survive on a plastic surface for more than five days at between 22°C and 25°C (71.6-77°F).

Hand dryers cannot kill the virus, the World Health Organisation reports. The WHO also says that people should not use UV lamps to sterilise their hands or any other areas of the body, because radiation can irritate the skin.

So, what do I do?

The question on everyone’s lips is the same: “What can I do to protect myself from the coronavirus?” The unfortunate answer is, “Not that much.”

Despite the vast numbers of people telling you to boost your immune system with everything from Vitamin C injections to NAC to spirulina, in all likelihood the only thing that will significantly impact your risk of getting COVID-19 is how often you wash your hands and if you can avoid touching your face.

Another practical thing that you can do is to distance yourself socially. Social distancing is a simple idea. We come into close contact with many people constantly, and are the objects of hugs, kisses and the occasional warm breath of a stranger.

In practising social distancing, rather than getting in up close, try to stay at a distance.

Also, be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, as the virus triggers a wide range of reactions, many of which appear with other respiratory illnesses such as influenza and the common cold. The common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and difficulty with breathing. Rarer signs include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a runny nose.

In severe cases, the disease can progress into a severe, pneumonia-like illness, but infected people may show no symptoms at all early on.

For more information visit: www. ghanahealthservice/covid19

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Last modified on Tuesday, 17 March 2020 08:36


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