On 05 March 2020, South Africa confirmed its first case of COVID-19. On 15 March 2020, the President of South Africa declared a national disaster, which includes strict travel bans and other measures.
FAQ – Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Original posting 31 January 2020. Seventh update 17 March 2020.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large group of viruses that are common in many different species of animals. They cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The common cold is something we are all familiar with – this is often caused by what is termed “common human coronaviruses” of which there are many different strains.
The current virus that was reported on 31 December 2019 for the first time by China, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. It has been given the name SARS-CoV-2 and it causes Covid-19 (corona virus disease).
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared this outbreak a pandemic.
How does one contract Covid-19?
As yet, the original source of the SARS-CoV-2 is not known, even though it has been speculated that pangolins are involved; however, this link is inconclusive at this stage. It is still believed to be zoonotic though (jumped from animal to human).
The main routes of infection are:
- From person-to-person (close contact….touching, shaking hands etc),
- Via droplets spread by coughing and sneezing,
- From contaminated surfaces
According to Public Health England, you have to be in close contact with an infected person – within two metres to be at risk. This can happen at the work place, in health care centres, hospitals, in a home, buses, taxis, trains, practically anywhere. In addition, latest research is showing virus genetic material present in faeces and blood samples of a percentage of those infected, so this may potentially be a novel route of transmission – even more reason for washing hands well after visiting the toilet! Contaminated surfaces include public hand rails, lift buttons, money, shopping trolley handles etc. Wash hands well (for at least 20 seconds) after being out in public and sanitize them! If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer gel (with at least 60% alcohol) to disinfect hands.
What are the symptoms of infection?
The most common symptoms of infection are:
- Shortness of breath
Another symptom may be difficulty breathing (dyspnoea). In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How long does it take for symptoms to show?
Symptoms of Covid-19 typically show between 2-14 days after infection. This is why people who have come into contact with an infected person should self-isolate and seek medical assistance by calling the national toll free number 0800 029 999 or their doctor for assistance. It is now known that some people will have light symptoms and not go to the doctor, whilst a small number do not show any symptoms, but can still spread the virus.
Who is most at risk?
Everyone is potentially at risk. However, high risk cases remain mainly older people or people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure. People with certain habits like heavy smoking are also at risk. It is highly likely that persons with HIV, TB, malaria may be more susceptible due to their weaker immune systems. Children and babies are less likely to be infected. If infected they are likely to have mild symptoms but, they could still spread the virus to others. They are however, at less risk of developing complications from the infection – we do not know why this is so, currently.
What about Covid-19 and pregnancy?
Only 18 pregnancies where the mothers contracted Covid-19 during their pregnancy have been tracked to date. There is not enough data to make any conclusions as to whether contracting the virus during pregnancy may result in any problems. Research is continuing.
What is the death rate?
The number of cases and deaths change on a daily basis. It is best to obtain these figures from the World Health Organization. The overall death rate is hovering around the 3-4% mark, which is still less than the death rate for the SARS-CoV-1 virus, which caused the outbreak in China in 2003 – that death rate ran at 10% even though fewer people in total were infected (around 8000 infections with 800 deaths). SARS-CoV-2 is far more infectious than SARS-CoV-1 as there are many more cases and the virus is now on all continents except for Antarctica. What is not making the headlines, is that the majority of people who contract the virus, recover (around 70%). There are also many thousands of people who only show mild symptoms.
What is the situation in South Africa?
On 05 March 2020, the South African National Department of Health announced the first case of Covid-19 in South Africa. Since then, numbers have increased. On 15 March 2020, the South African President addressed the nation, declaring a national state of disaster, as well as announcing a number of important measures to limit the spread of the virus. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is the official body that coordinates public testing for Covid-19 in South Africa. Private medical laboratories are also offering testing services.
What is the situation in the rest of Africa?
More countries are reporting cases on a daily basis.
Is there treatment available?
There is no treatment for Covid-19, despite many myths on the internet and social media (see below). Treatment is based on symptoms according to the patient’s clinical condition. Supportive care for infected persons is usually highly effective. There are numerous trials being conducted to find a cure and work is ongoing to develop a vaccine. However, a vaccine will probably not be available for another 12-18 months.
Can the virus (SARS-CoV-2) be transmitted through food?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitted through food. Two closely related viruses, MERS and SARS were not considered a high risk for transmission through food. However, good personal behaviour around food should continue i.e. not sneezing or coughing over food, washing hands and more….normal practices that we have been following for many years under “normal” circumstances in the food industry.
Can this Coronavirus live on surfaces?
Viruses cannot grow outside their host but in many cases they can survive on surfaces. New research shows that this coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
How can I protect myself?
Standard personal hygiene practices as well as food safety practices in the kitchen are key to prevent spread of many microorganisms, including SARS-CoV-2.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or one’s sleeve.
- Throw any used tissues into the bin immediately and wash hands (see next point).
- Wash hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (as has always been touted in the food industry). Do this regularly, but especially after getting home from public areas and before preparing / eating food and after using tissues to blow one’s nose or to cough into.
- Use hand sanitizer after washing hands or if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer gel. Hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective. Note: If hands are exceptionally dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer will not work. Hands then need to be washed with soap and water first and then sanitized, if needed.
- Avoid contact with people who are showing flu-like symptoms, in particular fever and coughing – keep at least a 1 metre distance from another person.
- Do not touch your face, eyes, nose, mouth with unwashed hands.
The World Health Organization and the UK NHS provide excellent advice and information.
Is there any disinfectant that works against SARS-CoV-2?
Household bleach and hydrogen peroxide seem to be effective against the virus. Common hand sanitizer gels worked against SARS-CoV-1 and are effective against SARS-CoV-2 as well, provided they contain at least 60% alcohol. If using wipes to disinfect surfaces, do not use plain “wet wipes”, but look for “disinfectant wipes”. Normal wet wipes do not contain disinfectant and will be useless against SARS-CoV-2. Remember to throw the wipes away immediately into a waste bin after use and then wash your hands with soap and water or if not available, use hand sanitizer gel.
Most Important: This virus IS controllable, provided that we all work together and take responsibility for our actions. Follow basic hygienic behaviour and arm yourselves with the right information. Click here and here for a list of myths related to SARS-CoV-2.