Only a couple of months ago, the little that we heard of that strange disease in a food market in Wuhan was more of the same: an excessive alert, a media manipulation, something that only happened on the other side of the world.
But again, the paradox of modern life — where interconnectivity is directly proportional to apathy and isolation — took us all by surprise when the spread of the so-called coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), became a global pandemic in less than four months.
Its status as a highly contagious virus makes the coronavirus an easily transportable disease, allowing it to arrive in Europe in a few weeks and transforming the old continent into the epicenter of its dissemination.
According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, around 168,000 cases have been reported worldwide, in nearly 140 countries; some 6,400 people have died, and 76,000 have recovered.
Here’s What You Need to Know:
The origin of the virus is unknown
Although media reports pointed to the seafood market in Wuhan, several scientific articles raised other hypotheses. The collective publication of a group of Chinese researchers from various institutions in January 2020 explains that the first case of the so-called “new coronavirus” was a patient who fell ill on December 1, 2019, without any link to the seafood market, as well as having “no epidemiological link” with the other patients.
Of the first 41 cases, 13 had no link to the market.
“That’s a big number, 13, with no link,” Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University, told Science Magazine. “The virus came into that marketplace before it came out of that marketplace,” he added.
It’s an “enhanced” version of a virus that we already knew
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has been known for some years, and its coronavirus (the agent that causes it) is also known. There have only been “two self-limiting outbreaks” of SARS in the world between 2002 and 2004, and they were characterized as “a highly contagious and potentially fatal form of pneumonia,” according to the NHS.
The origin of this type of virus is thought to go back to China in 2002, and originated from a strain that is frequently found in small mammals but eventually mutated, infecting humans. This pandemic was brought under control in July 2003 by following policies of isolation and screening of travelers.
The new coronavirus is precisely a new mutation of this first strain.
Its transmission mechanism is similar to that of other respiratory diseases
The coronavirus is transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets exhaled by contaminated people when they cough or sneeze. Its virality remains active for nine days at room temperature even though it doesn’t last long suspended in the air, as it can adhere to surfaces.
Although its spread is very high, its mortality is not
Since the extreme control measures allowed the decrease of cases within the Chinese territory, new cases were reported in countries like Italy, South Korea, and Iran. By mid-March, Europe was declared by the WHO to be the epicenter of the pandemic.
Although there are disparities and difficulties in counting all cases, the organizations estimate approximately 170,000 cases and 6,400 deaths, 80 percent of them in populations over 60 years old. In addition, 75 percent of those cases had pre-existing health conditions.
Although the symptoms are similar to those of a common cold, it is not
The symptoms described by researchers and by the WHO are
- High temperature in the fever range
- Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
The evolution of symptoms follows the lines of a respiratory infection, i.e. dry cough, acute respiratory distress, and eventual sepsis.
Although initially some contaminated persons may not show symptoms, after an incubation period (i.e. the time between contact with the virus and the appearance of symptoms) it is between 24 hours and 14 days, always depending on the person’s immune system.
Recommendations for prevention and how to help from home
Countries with high contamination rates have put in place emergency protocols to prevent contagion, including quarantines and the closure of public spaces and frontiers.
But to avoid further contagion and to join the efforts of institutions, these are some recommendations:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and before and after eating.
- Use products with a high percentage of alcohol to clean contact surfaces.
- Stay away from crowds and spaces where the distance between people is less than 7 feet. The WHO has also recommended avoiding physical contact, especially for older adults with chronic diseases or people with weakened immune systems.
- Avoid sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose without using tissues, or cover your mouth with your elbow.
- If diagnosed, isolate yourself completely in what has been called “self-quarantine” to avoid infecting the population at risk and to avoid contamination of shared spaces.
- Buy non-perishable food and stock up on essential supplies, including toilet paper, paper towel, trash bags and water. Avoid hoarding and collaborate with the peace of mind of all.
- Take into account the places where diagnoses are offered and, if symptoms are suspected, contact the care centers by phone.
- And most importantly: Take care of those close to you, including neighbors and family members, by following protocol and remaining calm.