Friday | 20 March | 2020
In December 2019, doctors in Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China, oberved a group of pneumonia cases that worried them. On 31 December, they reported it to the office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in China. On 7 January 2020, the pathogen responsible for these cases was identified as the Novel Corona Virus. The virus was named SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV. As the 2019 coronavirus is genetically similar to the already known SARS coronavirus, it was called SARS-Corona Virus-2.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that mainly live in animals, but in some cases, such as SARS and MERS, they have mutated to humans. Seven coronaviruses are currently known. Two of them are widespread and cause common cold symptoms, two are quite rare and do not cause serious symptoms, while MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – 2012) and SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – 2003) are the two that can cause severe respiratory symptoms. The SARS-CoV-2 is the newly identified coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19. “Co” refers to Corona, the “V” refers to “virus” and “D” to “disease”, and “19” to the year in which it originated, namely 2019.
In the case of Covid-19, human-to-human transmission was initially not observed because the first cases could be linked to a seafood and wildlife market (Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market) in Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China. However, the number of cases increased rapidly and evidence was found that it was spreading from person to person. Shortly thereafter, on 30 January 2020, the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced that this new coronavirus meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
What does the virus look like?
Coronavirusses are encased in a club-shaped glycoprotein that looks like a crown or halo, hence the name “Corona virus”. The word “Corona” comes from the Latin word corōna which means “garland worn on the head as a mark of honor or emblem of majesty; halo around a celestial body; upper part of a triumphal arch”.
The virus is not really a living organism, but depends on host cells to continue to survive and spread. The virus DNA spreads to the host cell and hijacks it to reproduce the proteins that make it possible for the virus to multiply. Simply put, the protein layer of the virus attaches to proteins on human skin and it then enters the body through the eyes, nose and mouth where it spreads further and infects the person.
How does the virus spread?
Transmission or spread of the virus from person to person happens when someone comes into contact with the droplets of a person who is ill. When a person coughs or sneezes, microdroplets containing the virus are sent into the air (droplet infection). The drops then end up on surfaces where the virus stays alive and can end up on someone else, especially when people touch such infected surfaces with their hands. The virus can remain on your hands until you wash it off with soap and water or remove it with a sanitiser. The virus can be transmitted further when you shake someone’s hand, hug or kiss the person. The virus can also spread when droplets containing the virus are expelled by coughing or sneezing, and inhaled by other people.
It seems that people who are already experiencing symptoms are the most contagious, but there have also been cases where a person who has already been infected but has not yet shown symptoms infected others. However, this does not appear to be common.
It is interesting to know that the virus can live on cardboard for up to a day, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Therefore, it is crucial to disinfect surfaces regularly and also to wash or disinfect your hands frequently after touching several surfaces.
It takes one to five days for symptoms to develop after someone came into contact with the virus (incubation period). Usually, mild symptoms will develop after about five days. Within an average of 11,5 days, 97% of people who came into contact with the virus will begin to develop symptoms, hence the isolation period of 14 days in case of possible contact with the virus.
About 81% of people who have been in contact with the virus will develop minor to moderate lower respiratory tract symptoms similar to a common cold. These include fever, a runny nose, dry cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some may also develop mild diarrhea.
After a week, more severe symptoms may develop. When symptoms such as shortness of breath and pneumonia develop, it may indicate that a person is seriously ill. About 12% – 14% of people who contract the virus will become seriously ill. After about seven days, such a person may develop a high fever (above 38 degrees Celsius) or pneumonia and experience difficulty to breathe.
Approximately 4,7% of cases might get seriously ill and may face symptoms such as kidney failure and pulmonary fibrosis. Approximately 2,5% of those who are seriously ill may then need to be treated in intensive care units and require assistance from a respirator.
The global mortality rate currently stands at between 3,34% and 4%, but this can vary from country to country, depending on the health of the population as well as the country’s climate and other conditions. It takes an average of 17,3 days from the time someone falls ill until such a person dies. It is estimated that the death rate for Covid-19 is about 30 times higher than that of regular influenza.
About 75% of people who died of Covid-19 had a weakened immune system or other underlying disease such as HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. Smokers, especially heavy smokers, are more vulnerable to the virus. Almost 80% of those who died of the disease were older than 60 years. Younger people, and especially children, generally do not become seriously ill and can expect to experience minor symptoms.
Currently, no vaccination or cure is available and the only measures that have been succesful in other countries are isolation and keeping one’s distance from other people. It is recommended that people should maintain a distance of one to two meters from each other. Those who already have underlying symptoms should avoid contact with other people if at all possible. Everyone should keep their contact with groups of people to the minimum. The less contact with people, the less your chances are of contracting the virus.
It is important to know that most people recover completely after contracting the virus, but it is also important to act responsibly now and to take others into account and help protect those who may be in high-risk groups. It is our duty to maintain strict personal hygiene measures and to be disciplined in avoiding groups in order to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. Stay informed and help each other to get through this time of crisis.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.