14 things you should know about coronavirus

A team of health workers test government officials and business executives who were on their way to Gabiro for the National Leadership Retreat recently. Rwanda has devised measures to prevent coronavirus. / File.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday a second COVID19 case was confirmed in Africa after it emerged that an Italian adult who arrived in Algeria on February 17 had tested positive.

The first African case of the novel Coronavirus had earlier, on February 14, been recorded in Egypt.

 

Stigmatization, the UN health agency noted, could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an epidemic.

 

The warning came as worst-hit countries in Asia and Europe are intensifying their efforts to contain the deadly virus as the number of cases globally surpassed 80,000, with more than 2,500 deaths – due to the rapidly evolving situation.

 

In recent days, several European countries, including Austria, Croatia and Switzerland have announced their first coronavirus cases, all apparently linked to the growing outbreak in Italy.

It also emerged that Brazil recorded its first case after a 61-year-old man from São Paulo tested positive. Then man, who had just returned from Italy, effectively became Latin America’s first confirmed Coronavirus case.

Meanwhile, Italy has become one of three global hotspots outside China after it became Europe’s worst-affected country, with more than 300 cases and 11 deaths.

Below are 14 key facts regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19):

1. What is COVID-19?

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an agency of the EU, the 2019 novel coronavirus is now named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) while the disease associated with it is referred to as COVID-19.

First identified in China in December 2019, it is a new strain of coronavirus that had previously not been identified in humans.

2. What are Coronaviruses?

The World Health Organisation says Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

3. How severe is COVID-19 infection?

At this point, the ECDC says, there is too little data available to say with certainty how severe COVID-19 is but preliminary findings indicate that it is less fatal than SARS coronavirus identified in 2003.

4. What is the mode of transmission?

While animals are the source of the virus, the virus is spreading from one person to another. There is currently not enough epidemiological information to determine how easily and sustainably the virus spreads between people. The virus seems to be transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.

The incubation period for COVID-19 (i.e. the time between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms) is currently estimated at between two and 14 days. Currently, it is known that the virus can be transmitted when those infected show flu-like symptoms. However, there are still uncertainties as to whether mild or asymptomatic cases can transmit the virus.

If people with COVID-19 are tested and diagnosed in a timely manner and rigorous infection control measures are applied, the likelihood of sustained human-to-human transmission in community settings is low.

5. What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?

From what is known so far, the virus can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as; fever, cough, difficulty breathing, pain in the muscles, and tiredness.

More serious cases develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock that can lead to death. People with existing chronic conditions seem to be more vulnerable to severe illness.

6. Are some people more at risk than others?

Anyone who lives in affected areas or who has been in contact with travellers from affected areas is at risk. However, elderly people and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, heart disorders, diabetes, liver disorders, and respiratory disease are generally expected to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms.

7. Is there treatment for the COVID-19 disease?

There is no specific treatment for this disease so the approach used to treat patients with coronavirus-related infections is to treat the clinical symptoms. Supportive care (e.g. supportive therapy and monitoring – oxygen therapy, fluid management and antivirals) can be highly effective for those infected.

8. How can we avoid getting infected?

According to WHO and the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), the basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections include:

• Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.

• Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.

• Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.

• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands) and avoid unnecessary handshaking if you present clinical signs of the flu-like syndrome.

• Within health care facilities, enhance standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments.

9. Are face masks effective in protecting against COVID-19?

Face masks help prevent further spread of infection from those who are sick to others around them. However, face masks do not seem to be as effective in protecting those who are not infected.

10. Is there a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2? How long will it take to develop a vaccine?

There are currently no vaccines against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. This is why it is very important to prevent infection or contain further spread of an infection.

The development of vaccines takes time. The WHO has said a vaccine for the virus could be available in 18 months. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on vaccine candidates. It will, however, take months before any vaccine can be widely used as it needs to undergo extensive testing to determine its safety and efficacy.

11. Why is the number of cases increasing so rapidly?

Two of the main reasons for the rapid increase in the number of cases are that the virus is spreading from one person to another and that the capacity to detect cases is improving.

12. What has Rwanda done in stepping up preparedness to detect and cope with possible COVID-19 importations?

According to the RBC, national preparedness and response capacity to deter COVID-19 is continuously being upgraded to ensure early detection and response to any suspected case at all entry points of Rwanda.

All arriving travellers are screened at Kigali International Airport and all other points of entry. Rwanda has, among other measures, set up a test lab at RBC’s National Referral Lab in Kigali.

13. Should I reconsider travelling to Asia?

The World Health Organization has not advised against travel to these areas. However, the outbreak is evolving very rapidly and the risk of infection is therefore changing.

In January, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel to Hubei Province, China, the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The ministry advises against all non-essential travel to Hubei Province (China) due to the outbreak. The government will review and update this travel advisory as needed, based on the latest information on ground and advice from public health authorities.

14. What is the status in Africa?

In Africa, the first case was confirmed in Egypt on February 14. But, on Tuesday, a second case was confirmed in Algeria, after an Italian adult who arrived in the country on February 17 tested positive.

African Health Ministers on Saturday held an emergency meeting at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to continue to reinforce continental preparedness efforts and how to potentially respond to the outbreak.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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