The rising impact of the coronavirus is surging throughout the world. The World Health Organization, WHO, governments, corporate bodies, religious organizations, social groups, concerned individuals, and medical personnel are rising up to the challenge of fighting this unwelcome enemy.

Much as the discovery of a vaccine that can cure COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be in sight right now, and may take up to eighteen months to manufacture it, according to experts, yet there is what we can do to most protect ourselves from contracting it. But first, let’s gain some greater understanding of what COVID-19 really means.

What is Coronavirus? The virus that causes the disease called COVID-19 is a new virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, in short, SARS-CoV-2. It was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. There are earlier versions of the virus which are known to have set off outbreaks of deadly diseases in the world. They include SARS, the first pandemic of the 21st century in 2002-2003, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS, in 2012.

1n the case of SARS, a total of 8,098 people were infected and it had a death toll of 774 people in about 26 countries. Up to January 2020, MERS which has spread to about 27 countries, had a total of 2,519 confirmed cases, and a global death toll of about 866 persons, according to World Health Organization.

How is it transmitted? Principally, it’s transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or indirectly with material contaminated by droplets from the cough or sneezing of an infected person. It is characterized especially by fever, cough, and shortness of breath and may progress to pneumonia and respiratory failure.

How do people contract it? The droplets carrying SARS-CoV-2 can enter the body through wet parts of the face – the eyes, nose, and mouth – which provide direct way to a person’s throat and lungs. So if an individual is close to an infected person, when he or she coughs or sneezes, the droplets from the infected person might fall directly into the eyes, nose or mouth, of the person standing by and thus enter his body. Otherwise, if the droplets fall on a surface, when an individual puts his or her hands there, he or she might contact it through the hands, and from there to the face. It’s important to note that SAR-coV-2 can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours.

The virus is responsible for damaging the respiratory tree of the body and causes inflammation. It’s the inflammation that makes it difficult for the oxygen to the reach the bloodstream and for the carbon dioxide to be removed. That is why some COVID-19 patients need ventilators to be able to breathe in oxygen.

Why does the coronavirus spread so fast in the world? We’ve already seen that the major ways COVID-19 spreads are: person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes; and with contact with contaminated surfaces.

In determining the deadliness of a virus, the speed of transmission is very important. Influenza, another respiratory infection, for instance, has a shorter incubation period - the time between infection and appearance of symptoms - of about three days, so it can be diagnosed and treated very quickly. COVID-19 has a longer incubation period, around five days, although it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear. This implies that people with infected COVID-19 could transmit the virus before any serious symptoms develop in them. This increases the spread of the disease.

Much as SARS and MERS have significantly higher case fatality rates than COVID-19, yet the latter is more infectious. Also, in spite of the lower fatality rate, the overall number of deaths from COVID-19 far outweighs that from SARS or MERS. COVID-19 is deadlier than SARS and MERS because it has affected more people over a certain time period than the other two outbreaks. It has also caused thrice the number of deaths caused by both SARS and MERS combined. In 2002-2003, it took up to six months before SARS could exceed 5,000 in mainland China, but COVID-19 did it in one month.

It is also thought that an infected person with COVID-19 passes it to an average of 2-3 other persons in the early stages. In no time this can multiply into several thousands of persons who are infected. The explanation is that if the infected person continues to socialize and mix up with people, it is likely that he will pass the virus on to other 2-3 friends who could also passes it on to further 2-3 people. Within one month, one case of infection can lead to 244 other cases, and in two months this can increase to 59,604 cases.

How Can You Most Protect Yourself From Catching It?

(i) Through serious social distancing. Social distancing is a way of creating a physical distance between two or more people so that transmission of virus can be prevented or stopped. In the 1918 Flu Pandemic (Spanish Flu) in which about 50 million people lost their lives in a space of two years, it was discovered that cities in the US for instance, that banned public gatherings, shut theatres, closed schools and churches, had far lower peak death rates than those that didn’t. So avoidance of crowds and social distancing is one of the very best ways of avoiding COVID-19. This makes the lockdown, in which families avoid mixing with people in public, a very important measure of protecting yourself against the coronavirus.

(ii) Aggressive hand hygiene: A 2015 study shows that people touch their faces an average of 23 times an hour. If a person touches a surface contaminated by the droplets of an infected person, the viruses on the surface will be transferred to his hands. If he does not wash his hands frequently with soap and running water, he may touch his face and transfer the viruses into his body.

(iii) Let’s wear the face mask: This is very important, particularly in Africa. The social distancing of two metres practiced in Europe, America, and Asia for instance, may not be very practicable in African countries. If you visit a typical market you see how closely people cluster to buy or sell. That’s why we really need to use the face mask.

(iv) Stop shaking hands and hugging people: Courtesies and pleasantries are a part and parcel of the culture of many people and nations. Victory over COVID-19 demands that we avoid shaking hands and hugging people now.

WHO is doing everything to flatten the curve by limiting spread of the coronavirus, and reducing the strain on the healthcare system. Therefore, let’s strictly adhere to basic protective measures against the new coronavirus as outlined by WHO. Stay safe.

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