Five years ago the Microsoft business Magnate Bill Gates was invited to give a TED Talk in Vancouver Canada. The TED Talk was delivered in the wake of the Ebola outbreak which killed thousands of people, spread to five African countries and the US. During the presentation Bill Gates predicted that the greatest risk of global catastrophe that faces humankind is no longer the threat of nuclear war, instead, he claimed it is the threat of contagious diseases. He went on to say that we are not ready for a highly infectious viral or bacterial condition and that whilst so-called civilised societies have spent trillions preparing missiles for a nuclear attack we have invested barely anything on a global microbial attack. In the light of the current Coronavirus crisis, it seems that Bill Gates’ prediction has indeed come to fruition, as worldwide healthcare systems scramble to contain the Coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared this rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and whilst we wait with bated breath for a vaccine or containment, the best course of action is to arm yourself with the facts about COVID-19, and what we can do to prevent transmission.
Coronavirus: The Facts
COVID-19 is a Coronavirus, which is a specific subset of viruses that use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material.
Coronaviruses are covered in spikes on their surface, and they use the spikes to invade cells. The spikes are the ‘corona’ in coronavirus.
COVID-19 was first discovered in December 2019 and is only the 7th coronavirus to ever be discovered.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are also coronaviruses and, just like those conditions, COVID-19 heads straight for the lungs.
COVID-19 causes a wide variance of respiratory symptoms, ranging from a dry cough and a fever, all the way to fatal viral pneumonia.
It is the wide range of symptoms that has made Coronavirus hard to track and contain, as many people who have contracted it have not reported to relevant healthcare systems.
COVID-19 is a zoonotic infection, meaning it can pass from animals to people. In this case, the origin is thought to be a wild animal market in Wuhan, China. Zoonotic diseases can be hard to wipe out as they will always have an animal reservoir where the disease can exist until it is transferred to humans again.
Once you have had the virus, you will develop antibodies which will offer you some protection from subsequent attacks.
The virus has been through genetic sequencing and scientists worldwide are reading the genome to look for possible mutations and a way to contain it.
Who Is At Risk From Coronavirus?
Anyone can contract COVID-19 but the good news is that in the majority of cases the symptoms are very mild and no more severe than the common cold. Children, in particular, seem to fare well when they contract the virus. Unfortunately, healthcare workers, people with compromised immunity, and elderly people may not fare so well as their immune systems are more likely to be compromised.
Elderly people with preexisting conditions are the highest risk group as the sufferers commonly develop acute pulmonary disease, and due to lack of emergency facilities in hospitals, including in industrialised countries, healthcare services have been caught with their trousers down and the chances of survival appear to be somewhat of a lottery.
Over 19,000 deaths have been reported to date worldwide (accurate on 25th March 2020) and there have been over 439,000 reported cases, although the figure is likely to be much higher as many go unreported.
What Are The Symptoms And What Is The NHS Advice If You Have Them?
- High Temperature – Hot to touch on the chest and the back.
- A new continuous cough – coughing repeatedly.
The current NHS guidelines are that if you have either or both of these symptoms, you should stay at home for 7 days. You do not need to contact your doctor, but if you feel you cannot cope with the symptoms at home or your condition deteriorates or if you do not improve within 7 days then you should call the 111 emergency helpline for advice.
How To Avoid The Spread Of Coronavirus
- wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Treatment For Coronavirus
There is currently no medical treatment available for COVID-19. However, there are measures you can take to prevent the spread.
The COVID-19 virus primarily spreads when one person breathes in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs. In addition, any infected person, with or without symptoms, could spread the virus by touching a surface. The coronavirus can remain alive on surfaces for several hours. So, If you can try to avoid touching public surfaces or if that is not an option then you should try to wipe them down with a disinfectant first.
Social distancing in China has been an effective way to slow down the spread of Coronavirus. For this to be effective you must try to maintain enough distance (6 feet or more) between yourself and another person to avoid getting infected or infecting someone else. Even if you are not in a high-risk group, slowing down the rate and number of new coronavirus infections is critical to not overwhelming hospitals, which could lead to large numbers of critically ill patients not receiving life-saving care.
You can support your body with good nutrition, which should include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Produce that contains, Zinc, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, Iodine, Vitamin C have been particularly effective at boosting natural immunity.
This outbreak has caused high levels of stress across the globe and the very nature of stress will trigger the fight or flight response. In the short term (a few minutes to hours), this is fine and can even give the immune system a healthy boost. In contrast, long-term stress suppresses or dysregulates our inherent and adaptive immune responses by altering the hormonal balance, this leads to low-grade chronic inflammation, which in turn suppresses the function and production of cells specific for immunity. In short, try not to worry too much about the current crisis because the more you worry the more susceptible you are.
Following the NHS advice about symptoms, self-isolation, hand washing, and eating a healthy varied diet is the best way to quash this pandemic from the grassroots level, and it is also a good opportunity to look out for others who may be vulnerable in our communities. Try to alleviate your stress levels and reduce anxiety by avoiding looking for the worst-case scenarios, get plenty of sleep, take some exercise and try not to obsess over the daily newspaper articles and constant TV reports. If you have to self isolate, use technology to talk with your family, friends, and even colleagues or acquaintances, and if you have symptoms that are not improving then call 111 or use the online service for advice.