COVID-19: What it is and how to avoid it

By now, I think it’s safe to assume most of our readers are at least a little bit aware of the new strain of corona virus tearing its way across the globe.

Officially designated COVID-19, the current outbreak was first detected in the Chinese province of Wuhan in December last year, where it subsequently spread to the rest of China and then to nearly 30 other countries so far.

Despite being almost three months in to the outbreak, there still remains a lot of confusion around COVID-19 and so for this week, I’d like to explore a bit about what the virus is, how it spreads and precautions we should be taking.

While COVID-19 is referred to colloquially as just the ‘coronavirus’, this is slightly misleading.

‘Coronavirus’ actually refers to any virus in the family Coronaviridae. The name comes from the spikes around the virus that give it a halo-like appearance when viewed under a microscope.

This family is quite diverse, ranging from the mostly-harmless common cold to the more lethal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom (SARS).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 is spread from person to person mainly through small droplets exhaled from the nose and mouth. These droplets then enter the body through the mucus membranes in a person’s lungs, nose and eyes.

Symptoms include fever, dry coughs, nasal congestion and diarrhea.

Contrary to popular belief, COVID-19 isn’t all that lethal, even compared to other coronaviruses.

Going by the latest WHO report, only 3% of infected people have actually died.

For comparison, this is a lower mortality rate than SARS, which had a mortality rate of around 10%, and the earlier Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) which was 35%.

However, what makes COVID-19 stand out from its predecesors is its high levels of infectability. While it may not be as lethal, it can reach far more people and when that happens, even a 3% mortality rate can translate into a lot of victims.

On top of that, the WHO has cited certain groups as being more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others.

Those most likely to develop serious illness after contracting COVID-19 are the elderly, young children, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or compromised immune systems.

In terms of prevention, the WHO has released a number of tips on how to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. These include:

  • Regularly washing your hands
  • Sneezing into a tissue or elbow instead of your hand
  • Avoiding touching you eyes, nose or mouth
  • Not eat raw or undercooked meat, organs or milk
  • Seeking medical help if symptoms develop

While no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in South Africa yet, the virus has finally made touch down on the continent with cases being confirmed in Egypt.

While no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in South Africa yet, the virus has reached the continent with cases being confirmed in Egypt.

Thankfully, there is a global effort to combat the virus as well as serious collaboration between the WHO and national governments so with any luck, we’ll start seeing progress real soon.


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