Unlike what you may have been told, coronaviruses are a group of viruses, not one single virus. These viruses include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). However, the strain which is making the world go into a tizzy is called COVID-19 as it had not been identified in humans before 2019. That is why it is also called novel coronavirus. As a highly communicable disease, it poses a threat to people across the globe. With almost two lakh people affected by the disease, and nearly 8000 deaths around the world; it is incumbent upon every individual to get proactive about prevention of its further spread.
The World Health Organization declared the current outbreak of the COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA warned of major disruptions in public life, and in healthcare in the coming weeks. Even if numerically more people are dying of the seasonal influenza, you need to worry as ratio of infection to death is at an alarming 5:1 ratio. That means 20 percent of infected people are dying.
These figures will keep rising as more people without proper access to healthcare and suffering from poor nutrition — the poor, those without health insurance cover, the unemployed — and old people get exposed. Until the novel coronavirus is contained, the healthscape seems bleak for many, especially as the economies of many countries have gone into a tailspin leaving governments strapped for resources to counter, contain, and mitigate this outbreak.
All coronaviruses are transmitted from animals to humans, making them zoonotic diseases. SARS was identified as having been transmitted through civet cats; while MERS was transmitted through dromedary camels. However, this latest outbreak which was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is thought to be more dangerous than SARS and MERS, though it is of the same family of respiratory diseases. It begins as a common cold which makes it so difficult to detect as providers might get misled into imagining it to be a self-limiting ailment, and not undertake any intervention beyond the symptomatic till it is very late.
Typically, infected individuals might not display any symptoms till the infection has settled in. You need to take heed of respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, especially if they are accompanied by fever and cough. There could also be a sense of perpetual tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, various aches and pains, difficulty in swallowing, and/or diarrhea. Real trouble rears its head when the infection turns into pneumonia, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. In a worst case scenario, kidney failure, or even death might ensue.
People who have got on in years, have some chronic illness such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or chronic hepatitis, and those with compromised immune systems, such as diabetics and those taking immunosuppressants, are most at risk. Some other ailments which might make people more susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 include chronic kidney disease, emphysema, cancer, AIDS, inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, blood disorders like sickle cell anemia or leukemia. Though pregnancy is not an illness, yet expecting women, and those who have delivered a baby in the previous two weeks could be more susceptible. The way the pandemic is playing out, the worst hit are people over 60 years of age.
Cardiac ailments like coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart failure; long term use of blood thinners; neurological, neurologic, and neurodevelopment conditions such as moderate to severe developmental delay, cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, intellectual disability, epilepsy (seizure disorders), or muscular dystrophy can also make an individual a prime candidate for contracting COVID-19.
Like all viral diseases, this one too is highly contagious. The virus thrives on surfaces like tables tops, door knobs, taps, rods, handles, and is communicated from respiratory droplets when an infected person exhales, coughs, or sneezes. The real risk is touching one’s eyes, mouth, or nose after having touched any infected surface. The spread of the infection is not through the air you breathe in; but from any surface on which the virus may have landed. Spread through the fecal route is highly unlikely. Since this virus spreads from person to person, the chances of infection are at their highest when a person is extremely sick, rather than during the incubation period.
Since this is still a very newly identified ailment, much of the information available is experiential; i.e. derived from observation of patients. The patients seem to exhibit symptoms any time between three to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. The average incubation period seems to be five days. It should be noted that infecting someone else before you begin to display symptoms appears to be unlikely. The paucity of screening centers makes identifying and containing the disease more challenging.
This is one major example of prevention being better than cure, especially as it is not known what long term adversities might emerge for those who have fallen ill, and recovered. Safety measures include covering mouth and nose with a tissue, large handkerchief, or even the pallu of your saree when coughing and sneezing. Tissues are the safest as they can be discarded, while clothes and hankies remain a source of infection till washed in hot water, and sanitized with an appropriate agent. Washing hands regularly, or at least sanitizing them with an alcohol based sanitizer after touching any surface reduces the risk of infecting yourself.
Indians are less likely to get infected through their food as they don’t just thoroughly cook fish, meat, and eggs; they overcook most foods. The salad lovers would do well to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables in running water, and then soak them in a baking soda or potassium solution. Use some safe disinfectant like neem oil when swabbing floors, and other surfaces. Give all your dishes a final rinse with a disinfectant. Pour boiling water on them before use. Drink warm to hot water to wash down any lurking infection in the throat. When it reaches the stomach, the digestive acids kill all infection. Avoid cold drinks, but keep your body well hydrated. Eat your food hot, or at least very warm.
Avoid close contact with people, not just with those showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. Maintaining a distance of a meter (three feet from people) is one option. Greet people with a namaste, rather than shaking hands. Wear a mask. If you suspect exposure such as foreign travel, go into a self-imposed quarantine.
It is better to be socially isolated for a few days than to be dead forever. That’s as stark as it can get. Suspend non-essential travel. Where possible, postpone wedding plans, or keep the function minimalist. Whether it is a case of countries closing borders; people working from home instead of commuting to work; cancellation of sporting events; closure of educational institutions, malls, and other public places; or issuing orders forbidding the gathering of more than ten people at any given time — nations around the globe have recognized the dangerousness of this deadly virus, and swung into action to contain its spread, before working on mitigation strategies.
Stay calm, and ignore all rumors. Don’t hoard essentials as you might be depriving someone who needs them more than you do. If you experience any respiratory distress, have a persistent cough, fever, or are sneezing nineteen to the dozen; see a doctor immediately, and request a screening.
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