The world has been thrown into somewhat of a panic again with the new coronavirus – COVID-19 – going around. I have been receiving endless text messages from concerned family members and updates on social media, but not all of the information has been accurate.
Doctors also have enough work to do, as they work round-the-clock to try and contain the outbreak. They do not need to be spending extra time debunking misinformation and fake news (some of which are outright ridiculous), that are spreading rampantly online on top of that.
The aim of this post is to act as a quick reference guide to everything you need to know about the COVID-19. From how it started, to ethical issues, how to tell myth from fact, and the current situation worldwide. All links are cited from credible sources, and there is a list of live updates from various global news sources at the end of the post. Note that I am not a doctor myself, but have been meticulous with the research of this article.
(Note: Article accurate as of 06 Feb 2020. Live updates from various news sources worldwide can be found at the end of the post.)
Where in the World Did the Coronavirus Come From?
There are many unregulated markets all over Asia and Africa that sell a mélange of meat. Animals are cast together, whether dead or alive, and range from the common to the exotic. Anything potentially edible goes, from pigs and rats, to even peacocks and porcupines. These markets are usually filthy, unhygienic and ridden with diseases.
These markets exist in part due to poverty, where many eat to survive, whatever they may get their hands on. They also exist due to the lack of regulations from governments, and the trafficking of rare and endangered animals. These markets are where most deadly virus outbreaks of global proportions are born. They also lead to the destruction of wildlife, and human lives eventually. Whilst China has enforced a temporary ban on wildlife trade, there needs to be more pressure against such harmful practices.
The Link with Bats and Human Transmissible Viruses
The coronavirus is suspected to originate from bats. They known to be one of the best disease carriers, carrying over 60 human infecting viruses such as Ebola and Rabies. Researchers from Wuhan have been trapping and sampling bat faeces and blood for viruses for the past eight years, and have found 500 novel coronaviruses. Bats’ anti-viral pathway – the STING-interferon pathway – is able to maintain enough defense against illnesses without triggering disease.
Bats are able to mount an effective antiviral response against pathogens, yet reverse it quickly by releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. On top of that, the body temperature of bats increase to 40 degrees celsius when they fly, which is not ideal for many viruses to survive.
Scientists theorise it as an evolutionary mechanism to protect them from the amount of waste produced, as a result of energy required to fly. In other animals and humans however, an activated STING pathway is linked with severe autoimmune diseases. (As a patient with various autoimmune disorders, this topic is of great interest to me.)
Germs Galore in Public Places
When we go out to public places, we touch many dirty surfaces without even thinking about it. In fact, our mobile phones have been found to be 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat! As an immunocompromised person, I actually wipe my mobile phone with an antibacterial swab when I get home, coronavirus or not.
Bacteria and viruses can also hang in the air or survive on surfaces when a person coughs or sneezes. This was also how I caught Tuberculosis once, off the supposedly clean streets of Singapore. The measles is also more contagious than the current coronavirus, with a transmission rate of up to 90% for those who are non-immune.
There are many different kinds of viruses that can cause the common cold or a bout of influenza. Colds are generally milder in nature, whilst the flu can lead to complications especially in the elderly, young and immunocompromised. They can be difficult to tell apart, but in general it is common to get a fever and chills with influenza, but rarer in a cold.
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Spreading Germs on Our Faces More Than Butter on Bread
A study shows that we touch our faces with our hands about 15.7x an hour. Our hands become an unwitting accomplice to causing us to fall ill. The biggest function of wearing a mask therefore, is to actually prevent you from transmitting germs to your mouth and nostrils via your hands, rather than catching the coronavirus.
Healthcare staff working in hospitals are in a different situation, as they are exposed to a higher concentration of germs. They are at higher risk of catching anything from a patient carrying any kind of transmissible illness.
Moreover, surgical masks do not fully protect you against airborne viruses, as they do not fully seal off access to your mouth, nose or eyes – all common pathways for infection to occur. Surgical masks were originally designed to block liquid droplets during surgery, rather than for the prevention of airborne disease.
The Different Types of Face Masks
Surgical masks are the most basic of all face mask types. There are other more protective face masks, which are designed to better filter out airborne particles. A list of such face masks: N95, Aura, Vogmask, Totobobo and Respro.
Whatever face mask you use, note that it has to cover your mouth and nose fully, or it’s useless as viruses can still get in. And the ‘problem’ with other types of protective face masks is that you need to fit them onto your face extremely well.
In fact, air filter masks such as the Vogmask and Respro have been in common usage by people with chronic illnesses such as MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) and allergies, as public places are full of deadly triggers for them, such as perfumes or cigarette smoke. They are also used for those with sensitive lungs, and in areas where air quality is poor.
N95 masks are the most affordable and familiar after surgical masks. You can get them at your local pharmacy, such as Watson’s or Guardian. They are known as ‘N95’ for their ability to block out 95% of airborne particles. (The Vogmask has an N99 rating.)
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How Do I Know if I’ve Caught the Coronavirus?!
You really can’t. There is still much that experts don’t know about this strain of coronavirus (COVID-19). Coronaviruses actually come from a large family of viruses more prevalent in animals. The recent SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV outbreaks also stemmed from the coronavirus.
Despite that, preventive measures are the same across any type of airborne or surface contact diseases, which I will list down next. The symptoms also resemble that of a flu or cold. Influenza in itself can lead to severe complications, pneumonia and even death, and is much more common.
So When Do I See the Doctor?!
Current suggestions from health institutes in Singapore is to treat it as you would a cold or flu. Visit your nearest GP (General Practitioner) or Polyclinic, where they will make the initial assessment. Hospitals are usually busy with long waiting times, and with more germs in general.
However, if you are feeling unwell or are truly worried, please seek medical attention immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and it is always better to be early than late. This is just a painful life lesson I learned from my own health journey, which nearly costed me my life.
Is There a Vaccine for the Coronavirus?
Whilst several groups and drugmakers are racing for a vaccine, it will not be ready at least in the next few months or year. Having said that, the first coronavirus drug candidate is set for testing in China. And even if a vaccine makes it through the rounds of clinical trials, there will likely not be enough to vaccinate every single person at risk, anyway.
There are considerations to create a universal coronavirus vaccine for the future. This is like a general insurance against this class of virus, much like the flu vaccine which you get on a yearly basis. The strains contained in the flu jab are based on what scientists project will circulate, before flu season begins for that year.
Will I Die if I Catch the Coronavirus?
As with any disease, there is a wide range of mortality rate based on both internal and external factors. Your environment, length of exposure before seeking treatment, your own immune system’s response, and more.
Whilst the case-fatality ratio is higher in coronavirus than the flu (2.2% vs 0.05%), such estimates cannot be taken as final at present. This is because many patients have yet to conclude their illness, so the true figures are yet unknown.
The CDC estimates that this season’s flu alone has caused 15 million people to fall sick, and 8,200 deaths. In comparison, whilst the COVID-19 has had almost 30,000 cases confirmed, the death toll is at nearly 500, and about 1,400 people have recovered from it. Of the number of confirmed cases, 28,000 are in mainland China. (Figures are accurate at the time of writing. View the live numbers globally here, based on John Hopkins CSSE).
Myth Busters & Fear Mongering
I bet that you’ve already had a cure or prevention remedy suggested to you by somebody (welcome to the chronic illness world ;)). Some may bear a bit of truth to them, but not in direct relation to the coronavirus in itself. For example, eating immune boosting foods such as garlic is good for your health in general (for most people), but it does not mean that it’s like some talisman against a vampire. It’s just common sense.
Check out this great myth busters page filled with graphics on the WHO (World Health Organization) website. It’s interesting what you can find there, although many of the questions posed are understably worrying. Hopefully the information there helps to ease your mind a little.
In such worrying times, conspiracy theories are like dry kindling for fear to burn and spread like wildfire. No, the coronavirus was not genetically engineered to put pieces of HIV into it. People often see two words put together, and jump to conclusions. Pieces of HIV genetic code can be found in other viruses, too. Twisting truths into half truths is potentially more dangerous. Such as when something a doctor has said is taken out of context, and misquoted as medical facts.
Oh and one last thing – no, the coronavirus does not come from Corona Beer.
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The Best Way to Protect Yourself from the Coronavirus
These tips apply to any airborne or surface transmissible virus as well, such as the cold or flu:
- Avoid travelling to China.
- If you were in China for the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough or have difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. Also avoid contact with others and do not travel anywhere else.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or cover your mouth or nose with a tissue. Do not do so into your hands, as you use them to touch many surfaces, and it is how germs are spread quickly.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, the proper way (not just a dribble of water and go). Watch a video here. Clean hands save lives – there is even a campaign named after this.
- Wash your hands (from cdc.gov):
- Whenever you handle food.
- Before eating.
- Before and after you come into contact or care for someone with diarrhoea or vomiting.
- Before and after treating a cut or wound.
- After using the toilet.
- After cleaning a child or when they have used the toilet.
- After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
- After handling any waste products, including pets’.
- After handling pet food or treats.
- After handling garbage.
- Use antibacterial hand sanitiser, when washing your hands with soap and water isn’t possible. Whilst not all bacteria can be killed with hand sanitisers, it is better than nothing.
- Do not read or spread fake news. Here’s an article I wrote about some clues on how to tell them apart.
- Keep updated and educated on the situation, from official government and education sites (I have compiled a list at the end of the post).
Why We Shouldn’t Panic
Public outbreaks of viruses have happened before, and will happen again. (Okay, not quite comforting, I get it!) But previous global epidemics such as the SARS outbreak have taught us how to better handle such crises, too. I dare wager that healthcare and governmental officials are handling it with more professionalism than before, even though we do not know everything about the coronavirus yet.
In this wild west internet age where fake-news and anything-news go, it is our own responsibility to fact check, and fact check viciously. Avoid click bait titles, and only read news from verified news sources. Fake news is not helpful, and only serves to create more chaos and perpetuate fear.
Please Don’t Go All Racist on Chinese People
There has been a number of disturbing reports where Chinese people have been targeted, and treated like the plague.
Chinese-French in France have used the hashtag #JeNuSuisPasUnVirus (I am not a virus) to strike back, and Chinese businesses in Italy and worldwide are becoming empty and shutting down. There is even a bar beside the Trevi fountain banning Chinese tourists! In Singapore itself, some landlords are turning away Chinese tenants, even though they might have lived in the home for years.
This isn’t fair as Chinese people are just as human as anyone else, travel, and reside in various countries – the same as people from other nationalities. I’m not even sure many can tell the difference between say, a person of Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese ethnicity. I know that my race gets mistaken a lot. To stereotype all Chinese people as coronavirus carriers is ignorance at its worst.
List of Credible News Sources
I have compiled a list of live update pages from credible news sources, where you can gather the latest accurate information about the COVID-19:
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- WHO (World Health Organization)
- MOH (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
- ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control)
- The Guardian
- World Economic Forum
- The Lancet
- New York Times
- List of Cancelled/Suspended Flights (Reuters)
- Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases (Johns Hopkins CSSE)
Stay safe, healthy, and let’s hope 2020 will get better! If you have more useful resources, leave them in the comments below and I will update the list in the article. Thank you!
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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