Just the Facts around the Coronavirus Pandemic
In 2014, we avoided a global outbreak of Ebola, thanks to thousands of selfless health workers — plus, frankly, some good luck.
In hindsight, we know what we should have done better.
If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.
Not missiles, but microbes.
Most of us never thought we would live to see a pandemic sweeping through the world. And here we are, adjusting to the new normal that the rapid spread of the novel-Coronavirus has forced us to embrace.
This new viral strain is indeed deadly and devastating, but not all is lost.
With clear information and strict adherence to preventive measures, it is possible to contain the rapid rise in the number of cases.
China, where the first case of the coronavirus-induced COVID-19 disease was identified, is already seeing the positive effects of its stringent corona control measures. And as some Chinese cities slowly resume normal activities, it can make us hopeful about our own abilities to battle the disease. At the same time, it is crucial to follow health and safety guidelines and not be too complacent.
Therefore, first of all, it is imperative to understand what the coronavirus is really all about.
The Nature of SARS-COV-2
The coronavirus has officially been named SARS-CoV-2 because it is a sister of the original strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV). It has a clear genetic relationship with the virus that caused the 2003 outbreak of SARS disease, but the new one is more complex and easier to spread.
This strain of virus is referred to as the coronavirus because its basic structure is shaped like a crown. The outer layer of this virus has lipids carrying proteins embedded in the oily structure. Inside, this fatty layer holds the genetic elements of the virus. Breaking down the outer layer is enough to dismantle the genetic content, thereby rendering the virus incapable of spreading disease in human beings.
Since the coronavirus is essentially enveloped in an oily layer, the use of any normal soap can be extremely effective in tearing down all its defences.
Normal soaps typically have two types of compounds: hydrophilic and lipophilic. This means that soap can break down elements suspended in both water and oil, and therefore it can be extremely effective in eliminating the coronavirus from hands and other surfaces. It is essential to ensure that the soap is used in such a way that it reaches all the crevices of the surface being cleaned, to weed out the chances of a virus sticking to a neglected part.
In the absence of soap and water, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC.gov) recommends cleaning your hands with a sanitiser, with at least 60% concentration of ethanol.
How Coronavirus affects the Body?
Coronavirus typically spreads through respiratory droplets of people who have already been affected.
If a healthy person comes in direct contact with the viral strain, the virus first enters his or her respiratory tract and infects the lining of the throat.
The area around the passage that carries oxygen into our bodies is also affected.
The first 2 to 14 days after this is termed as the incubation period.
It typically lasts for only about 5 days on an average, and this is when the virus binds itself to the cells inside a human body.
From the lungs, it spreads in huge numbers and infects the rest of the body. During this stage, as the insidious SARS-Cov-2 creates colonies of viral strains inside the body, people don’t usually experience symptoms.
However, at this time, they can easily pass on some of this virus to people around them through direct human-to-human contact.
The virus can also spread through surfaces carrying the infection for a few hours, but that is comparatively more rare.
Even though no form of vaccination currently exists in order to protect humans against the threat of coronavirus, it is possible to recover from it quite easily for most people.
World Health Organization suggests that only one in 6 people will have critical symptoms and others will only experience cold, cough, fever and joint pain to a mild degree.
If the infection is detected in someone’s body after lab testing, but the symptoms are not very pronounced, maintaining isolation can often be the best strategy.
At this time, being provided with good nutrition and ensuring ample fluid intake typically ensure recovery.
If the condition of the patient worsens beyond this and severe shortness of breath is experienced, hospitalisation may be necessary.
Depending on the severity, doctors can place them in ventilation to provide support to the respiratory system.
If the patient is old, immunosuppressed, or has some underlying conditions, the spread of the infection can worsen the overall health outlook and ultimately result in death.
However, death is rather unlikely for the large majority of people who get affected by coronavirus in the first place.
People who have been infected by the coronavirus typically show signs of being affected by COVID-19 within approximately 5–6 days.
Even though some asymptomatic cases have been reported, many of them have gone on to develop clear symptoms of the disease. The mild stage of the disease involves fever, dry cough and fatigue. If the disease progresses to a moderate phase, patients may experience symptoms of heightened respiratory trouble and pneumonia.
Symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea may also be observed in some patients.
In rare cases, COVID-19 may result in multiple organ failure and septic shock because of the body’s inability to fight off this foreign element. This is when a patient may die after severe exacerbation of the symptoms. Often, deaths occur because the healthcare system is incapable of handling so many cases simultaneously and has to abandon those who have the least chance of living.
This is what happened in the case of Italy, where the healthcare system was too overwhelmed to manage all the cases of COVID-19 coming its way. This situation can be avoided by containing transmission and arresting case frequency, and these practices can consequently lead to fewer death cases.
Tedros Adhanom, Director-General, WHO says the mortality rate of the coronavirus stands at around 3.4% globally.
However, this number is likely to be much lower because the calculation does not account for all the cases that have been tested in and confirmed by labs. This includes a vast number of mild cases that may be lying dormant in the global population. A similar logic applies to the case of Italy, where the mortality rate stands at a staggering 9%.
Since a large number of people with mild symptoms have not even been tested, this value is possibly much higher than the real figure. The mortality rate is much higher than that of the seasonal flu and is definitely a cause for concern. At the same time, it is important to remember that most people will recover from COVID-19 and there is no point in panicking needlessly.
The Geometric Progression of Coronavirus
Even though panic can only be counterproductive at this point of time, it is also imperative to remain cautious about the spread of coronavirus because it can spread extremely fast and cause a large number of cases. This results in a rapid rise in the absolute number of deaths, even as the percentage rate of mortality remains low.
The novel-coronavirus spreads in geometric progression among us.
If one man has coronavirus, he is unlikely to experience symptoms right away. At this time, he can go out and meet people and spread the virus through touch and surfaces that he comes in contact with.
Even though no clear direction is currently available about the length of time when the virus can survive on various surfaces, the New England Journal of Medicine has estimated it to be a maximum of 48 hours. This means that while your e-commerce parcels may be safe, the surfaces that an infected person has touched may not be. In this way, the affected person can infect several people. These 5 to 10 people can then go on to infect more people and the numbers keep jumping as people continue to meet, shake hands or simply touch the same surfaces after sneezing or touching one’s face.
Since touching one’s face after coming in contact with an infected surface can be such a potent source of this disease, it may be a good idea to wear a mask while going out.
Masks can be a useful method of protection in two major ways.
If one is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, a mask will prevent the virus from spreading through respiratory droplets of the infected person.
In addition, for people who are not infected by the virus, wearing a mask will reduce the likelihood of them touching their face repeatedly, thereby lowering the chances of transmission.
Various Stages of Transmissions
The first stage of spreading coronavirus happens when only a few people who have a history of travel to affected countries test positive for the coronavirus.
The second stage involves local transmission, when the family members or close associates of the person get infected due to direct exposure.
The third stage is characterised by community transmission, where people with no travel history to affected regions or contact with infected persons also test positive for the virus. This is the stage where Italy saw region after region fall prey to the virulence and the death toll rise to massive levels every day. UK is also at a similar stage, and is seeing faster growth in the death toll than Italy or China did.
The fourth and final stage occurs when the viral outbreak results in a massive epidemic of COVID-19 cases.
India is currently in the second stage of coronavirus, and the best possible tactic for the government right now is to delay the spread of the disease as far as possible, so that the healthcare system is not burdened by an overwhelming number of cases at any point. In light of this fact, the decision to implement a 21-day national lockdown seems the least that the government could do at this time. The lockdown is an essential step to flatten the rising curve of corona cases. By ensuring that people stay home for the length of the virus’ incubation period, the authorities can ensure that the infection spreads to fewer people. This will ensure that the healthcare system is not flooded by a massive number of cases at the same time. Having a few cases at a time is usually manageable for most health systems because Covid-19 can often be cured by providing continuous care and support. But if too many people crowd the hospitals with the disease, it will become impossible to treat everyone and contain the outbreak.
This is why it is so essential for all of us to cooperate with the authorities and practise social distancing as far as possible.
Since no vaccine is available at the moment to protect us from coronavirus, social distancing and maintenance of proper personal hygiene are the only things we can do now to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The most important thing now is to avoid going out of our houses unless there is an emergency situation or need for essentials.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick or may appear under the weather.
Self quarantine at home, if you develop symptoms and wear a mask to prevent the spread of the disease further
Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow. Use a tissue and trash the tissue after use.
In addition, washing our hands for at least 20 seconds at frequent intervals and cleaning out all surfaces in our homes regularly can be our key measures against this crisis.
Sanitisers can also be quite effective in this regard. This is because ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol and n-propanol can be effective in breaking down the germ membranes as well. However, this does not mean you need to hoard several bottles of sanitiser at this time of crisis.
It is always preferable to use a soap and water solution to wash your hands because it is more effective in trapping the microorganism and washing it off. So if you are at home during this nationwide lockdown, your trusty old soap is your best bet against the coronavirus.
Moreover, bolstering our body’s line of defence by eating nutritious food and drinking enough water can also ensure that our immunity systems are strong enough to take on the disease if it does affect us.
Avoiding Misinformation and Stigmatisation
In light of all the facts that I have highlighted above, it is essential to remain mindful about the misinformation we are routinely being subjected to, in dubious headlines or WhatsApp chain messages.
If there is anything that is spreading faster than the novel coronavirus right now, it is fake news through social media platforms.
Such misinformation and myths have triggered panic, spewed hatred and led people to take extreme measures, from committing suicide to avoid COVID-19 to drinking cow urine for fighting the virus.
In many places, the doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to fight the crisis, have been rendered homeless by panicked landlords.
In such a situation, it is crucial to remember that social distancing and personal hygiene can take care of coronavirus well enough without unnecessarily stigmatising the disease.
Equally important is to ensure that people with the disease or exposure to it are only physically distanced and not socially shunned.
Now is the time for the society to stand more united than ever before, and fight the outbreak with conviction.
For information, it is important to rely only on government websites, WHO and CDC portals, reputed news sites and blogs.
It is possible to fight coronavirus and pick up the pieces it has broken many parts of our world into.
But that will only be possible if we remain focused, careful & unified.