Earlier we have covered the origin and evolution of the coronaviruses and followed it with a post updating the knowledge as of Jan. 25th, 2020. Here, we revisit the topic to cover the symptoms, death-rate, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of coronavirus disease.
Coronavirus is not just a single virus. Instead, coronaviruses are a family of viruses. They cause flu-like symptoms. In fact, this family was behind the spread of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). The Wuhan coronavirus is a new one and hence they aptly named it initially as the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV. Now, they have renamed it officially. Although new, the virus is phylogenetically in the SARS clade. So, SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus and COVID-19 is the disease it causes. COVID simply stands for Corona Virus Disease. To the general populace, however, coronavirus is the name both for the disease and the causative agent.
Symptoms & Incubation Period
- High fever
- Shortness of breath
It takes 2 to 14 days for the symptoms to show after the infection occurs. So, the incubation period varies with a mean incubation period of 6.4 days.
Fatality or Death-Rate
The new coronavirus is contagious and spreads from person to person by respiratory droplets when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. As of now, it is unclear exactly how contagious the virus is. Still, the truth stares onto our face that in less than 3 months the disease has spread over almost all the countries spanning all the continents. Since 31 December 2019 and as of 15 March 2020, 8 o’clock 1,51,363 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including 5,758 deaths. Check the current statistics here.
Recently, the epicenter has changed from China to Europe, Italy being the most badly hit. Prominent persons like Brazil’s President, British Health Minister and the wife of Canada’s Prime Minister are among those infected. Incidentally, the US President Donald Trump has tested negative. His report came today morning.
On 11 March 2020 the WHO declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. As per the world organization, the fatality or death-rate hovers around 3.4 percent. However, Trump’s contention that the death-rate doesn’t exceed a mere 1% may not be too off the mark. His argument seems to hold ground that a lot many persons with mild infection and of sound health with strong immunity might not have approached the health authorities at all. So, the gross number of affected persons in public view is apparently lesser.
Why and how is the virus spreading so fast?
Medically, there is no pre-existing immunity in populations due to the newness of the virus. Hence, the virus is spreading fast. Everyone exposed is susceptible as such. In addition, because of the globalization of the economies, the cities world over are increasingly more interlinked.
That is to say, the virus itself is not really spreading any faster than the earlier progenies. People are moving fast and with them, the coronavirus is spreading faster. With the faster modes of communication, the world is increasingly becoming smaller. In this scenario, the world community needs to be extra vigilant and fast in responding to new and unknown viral strains.
- If you have recently travelled to or from a widely-infected area like Wuhan or Italy.
- In case one of your family members has got the infections.
- If you are a health-worker with inadequate protection in contact with infected persons.
Who suffers more if infected?
The impact of the disease ranges from mild to severe. Clinical cases have been asymptomatic (no symptoms) to severe pneumonia. It may be severe in persons with already weakened immunity due to old age or existing illnesses related to heart or other organs. We see similar trends in cases of other respiratory ailments, such as influenza.
When to visit the doctor?
- If you have these symptoms, and especially
- If you have had in the previous fortnight a possible exposure to the virus
Reliable laboratory diagnosis precedes actionable intervention by public health authorities. Real-time RT-PCR is used routinely in cases of acute respiratory infections. The term is an abbreviation for reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. We cite from The Free Dictionary a formal definition. Quite a mouthful of definition this is! Simply said, it forms a prominent technique in biotechnology.
A method of polymerase chain reaction amplification of nucleic acid sequences that uses RNA as the template for transcribing the corresponding DNA using reverse transcriptase.
Prevention & Treatment
Only vaccines can prevent viruses. As it is, there is no vaccine available as of now to prevent infections with coronaviruses. And, there are apprehensions that it will still take time to develop one. There is no cure either. Potential therapeutic agents have shown little evidence of effectiveness. In general, medical science has little to offer in respect to common cold and viral fever except for symptomatic relief. In a word, prevention is the only cure.
- We touch people, surfaces and objects all through the day. In the process, we inadvertently accumulate germs on our hands. When we touch our own eyes, nose or mouth with our own hands, we may infect ourselves with the germs.
- It is the best day-to-day practice to wash our hands frequently with soap and water. In case of scarcity of water, alcohol-based sanitizer containing 60% alcohol will do equally well. On a lighter vein, it’s high time Nitish Govt. think of making alcohol free in Bihar. In spite of our apparent religiosity, we Indians are reluctant to use soap and water so often in a day.
- And, remember: this advice holds good even after the scare of Coronavirus is gone. There are a lot many viruses. Washing hands frequently can help contain the transfer of viruses, bacteria, and other deadly microbes. This is the simplest and most effective prevention. Our PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat somehow foresaw the days to come.
When and how to wash hands?
- Always wash your hands before and/or after:
- Using toilet and changing diapers
- Blowing nose and coughing
- Treating wounds or caring someone sick
- Inserting or removing contact lenses
- Feeding animals and playing with pets
- Handling garbage
- Be extra careful with organic waste – more so with animal or medical waste
- And, take note: OTC i.e. over the counter antibacterial soaps are clinically not significantly any more effective at killing germs than regular soaps – despite the advertisements. So, apply soap, lather well and rub vigorously for at least 20 seconds. That’s it.
- Make sure the hands of kids are clean, too. You can use hand sanitizer for kids also if soap and water combination is not available. Caution, however: Swallowing of alcohol-based sanitizers may result in alcohol poisoning. Store the container safely away after use.
- Cough or sneeze into tissue/hanky.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you often touch.
- Work from home or take leave if you’re sick.
- Maintain social distance (1m).
What not to do?
- Don’t buy and wear facemasks if hale and hearty.
- Resist touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands.
- Don’t share dishes, glasses, beds, etc with others if you’re sick.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick, without protective gear, so to say.
- Avoid crowded places.
- Refuse to shake hands or embrace.
- Avoid contact with someone who has recently travelled abroad unless declared medically fit.
- WHO recommends in particular:
- Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat or animal organs.
- Don’t visit live (animal) markets in areas that have recently had new coronavirus cases.
Recommendations for the Authorities
The situation is evolving very quickly. A situation like China is feared now in Europe. The coronavirus may spread overnight to yet unrepresented areas as fresh cases come to fore. Containment is fast becoming a non-option. A proactive comprehensive mitigation approach is, therefore, required along with attempts at containment.
Governments must enforce social distancing measures to interrupt human-to-human transmission. Closure of schools and malls are steps in the right direction. It is however not possible to contain without public awareness, discipline and community engagement. Only this time, to engage meaningfully we have to disengage in solitude.
Proper and immediate training of healthcare providers is the need of the hour. Resources and capacities are not unlimited. Authorities may have to adopt prioritized rationing of confirmatory tests and use of respirators (FFP2/3), hence. For example, the healthcare workers performing aerosol-generating procedures including swabbing need the masks more than the man on the street. The national surveillance system needs to be activated.
At the end of the day, let’s hope for the best while preparing for the worst. In any case, the survival rate at 96.6% far outweighs the fatality rate at 3.4%. Positive thinking and concerted action will win the day!