13 Key Q&A about COVID-19 You Need to Know Now
The COVID-19 virus has infected more than 60,000 people and killed 1400 people to date. The new name, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, was chosen by the World Health Organization to avoid implying any association with people, places, or animals. Infectious diseases specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam provides insightful answers to some of the more commonly-asked questions on the coronavirus.
How does COVID-19 spread?
Much like familiar cold viruses or influenza, COVID-19 spreads primarily by respiratory droplets, which come out through saliva or when we sneeze. It is not in the air.
Droplets of bodily fluids - such as saliva or mucus - from an infected person are dispersed in the air or on surfaces by coughing or sneezing.
These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face.
According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes or even longer.
How can we distinguish between COVID-19 symptoms and the regular flu?
It its very difficult – the usual symptoms (e.g. fever, sore throat, cough, headache) are very similar to influenza and the regular cold.
Programme Leader (Infectious Diseases), Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang explains that general practitioners are sometimes unable to identify suspected cases on the first visit to the clinic because the initial symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to flu or the common cold.
Patients who are suspected cases but test negative for the virus are recommended to stay at home to rest. Those who do not recover after a few days or start to feel worse should see a doctor again. Patients should wear a mask when going to the clinic, and if they need to go out for other reasons.
Is it possible to contract COVID-19 from someone who is not showing symptoms?
Those with no symptoms are less likely to have nasal discharge or cough, and are hence less likely to transmit the virus.
Nevertheless, transmission is of particular concern on transport, where droplets containing the COVID-19 virus could pass between passengers or via surfaces like aeroplane seats and armrests.
The incubation period of the COVID-19 virus, the length of time before symptoms appear, is between one and 14 days.
Although not yet confirmed, Chinese health authorities believe the virus can be transmitted before symptoms appear.
This would have major implications for containment measures, according to Gerard Krause, head of the Department for Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection.
How deadly is COVID-19?
The mortality rate stands at 2%, but as we do not have the full number of people who are sick, including the milder cases, this could be an inflated figure.
According to the World Health Organization, the disease is relatively mild in about 80% of cases, based on preliminary data from China.
But the new coronavirus attacks the lungs, and in about 20% of patients, infections can get more serious. As the virus enters lung cells, it starts to replicate, destroying the cells, explains Dr. Yoko Furuya, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
"Because our body senses all of those viruses as basically foreign invaders, that triggers our immune system to sweep in and try to contain and control the virus and stop it from making more and more copies of itself," she says.
What treatments exist to help COVID-19 patients?
Most of the time, supportive care (i.e. adequate hydration, food and oxygen when needed) will work for more than 90% of patients.
Many of the more serious cases have been in people who are middle-aged and elderly — Furuya notes that our immune system gets weaker as we age. She says for long-term smokers, it could be even worse because their airways and lungs are more vulnerable. People with other underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or chronic lung disease, have also proved most vulnerable. Furuya says those kinds of conditions can make it harder for the body to recover from infections.
Should I avoid public spaces like hawker centres?
With communal spread, it is still alright to proceed with your daily lives, hence visiting a food centre or public spaces are okay. However, it is not advisable to linger for too long, so as to avoid congregating in places with a high density of people.
Should I handle common objects like money?
If you handle money, make sure you wash your hands with soap and water before you touch your face.
Should I avoid places where confirmed/suspect cases have been?
No, ironically, as those places would have been cleaned thoroughly, they would be one of the cleanest spots in Singapore. We can trust the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and NEA to thoroughly clean the area. For NEA’s guidelines for cleaning, read more here go.gov.sg/neaadvisory
Is my online shopping package safe to handle?
When the packages travel, even through Wuhan, the long process and exposure to the sun would have destroyed the virus.
Should I be worried if I live near a quarantine site?
No. The virus can only spread by droplets. The virus does not go into the air. You cannot breathe it in.
Should I avoid private-hire vehicles and taxis?
As you enter the vehicle you could request for the windows to be wound down. This way, air is allowed to move in and out of the vehicle, which would quickly dilute the virus and make it negligible.
How does washing hands help with the Covid-19 virus?
We may inadvertently touch our eyes, nose or mouth, even while wearing a mask. Keeping our hands clean will protect our face.
Are hand sanitisers useful?
Yes, use alcohol-based hand sanitisers on your hands and dry them thereafter. However, refrain from using wipes, as they tend to spread germs around.