Qs & As about Coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been the bane of our existence for about 4 months now. The World health Organization declared Corona a global epidemic and to date over 3,000 people have died from the virus. It’s a confusing and scary phenomenon that’s sending the world into panic mode. As of March 13th, Kenya has one reported case of Coronavirus.

Prof. Rodney Adam, Chair of the Infection Control Committee at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi, was able to give answers to some of the most pressing questions we have about Coronavirus:

  1. What is the origin of the virus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. The December 2019 cases of Coronavirus weer first reported in Wuhan, China.

The virus under microscopic lens

2. Why is it called COVID-19? 

The name of the virus has rapidly evolved since the first cases in early December 2019 and the recognition that it was a new virus in late December. RNA viruses have been traditionally named after their location of discovery, so the initial designation was ‘Wuhan Coronavirus’. However, no-one wants it named after their place, so now the agreed on naming of the disease is COVID-19 (COronavirus VIrus Disease-2019).

3. How likely is it that the virus will reach Kenya?

Microbes don’t need visas. Despite the travel restrictions, the Coronavirus has spread to multiple continents, so it is unlikely that travel restrictions will prevent the infection from coming to other parts of the world.The major question now is when rather than whether.

4. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The two main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and cough. The initial case definition also included shortness of breath, but that is true only for those who are more seriously ill.

5. How does (COVID-19) spread?

Through droplets which are released when people sneeze or cough. These droplets can only travel up to one meter and cause infection when they contact the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes.

6. How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

Incubation period is the time between catching the virus and when the symptoms of the disease start appearing. The average is about five days and ranges from two to 12 days in most cases.

7. How do I know if I have COVID-19 and not regular cold or flu?

The only way to know if you suffer from COVID-19 is through a special lab test called PCR. The PCR test is currently available through the Ministry of Health and soon it will be done at AgaKhan University Hospital.

8. Can COVID-19 be treated with antibiotics?

No. COVID-19 is caused by a virus and antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.

9. Is there any specific treatment for COVID-19?

So far, there is not a specific medication that treats COVID-19 (as is true for most viruses). The disease is treated symptomatically, which means the symptoms (such as fever and cough) are treated rather than the disease itself.

However, with good supportive care nearly everyone can survive. That includes oxygen when needed and even a ventilator for those who are really sick.

10. How serious is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is usually a mild to moderate respiratory (lung) infection. In the elderly or those who are immuno-compromised or have other chronic diseases, it may lead to a severe pneumonia and can be fatal. Children and young adults rarely develop serious disease.

11.What are the mortality rates?

So far, the mortality rates in China have been 2% – 3%, but the true number may be higher or lower and will certainly depend on the level of care provided by the hospital. The mortality was higher in Wuhan than other places, possibly because the health system there was overwhelmed. Most of the people hospitalized in China have been over 40 (including none under 15) and half have had other medical illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease or stroke, making them more vulnerable. So far, 1.5% of those outside China have died.

12. Is there anything I should do before it arrives?

The short answer is to do common sense things that will keep you in good health. People are frequently changing their diets, buying respiratory masks, etc. None of these things will help at this time.

Respiratory mask

13. How can I reduce the risk of getting coronavirus from infected humans?

It is likely that the transmission of coronavirus is similar to that of other respiratory viruses such as influenza. That means that the infection occurs from contact with respiratory secretions of someone who is infected. That can be from directly touching the infected person or from being coughed on. Then, the droplets from the person coughing land on you and establish infection.

That means that the most important thing you can do is proper hand hygiene, either washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer when you have contact with someone who might have a respiratory illness. It is very unlikely that walking around with a mask (as many are doing elsewhere) will make any difference.

Wash your hands as often as possible


14. Will a normal flu shot help me avoid the worst symptoms?

The flu shot is for preventing infection from influenza and will not prevent coronavirus infection. However, the illness caused by influenza is similar to the coronavirus infection, so if influenza is prevented, there is less chance of suspecting that you have the coronavirus when in fact, it is influenza.

15. Given that the virus originated from animals should I stay away from meat and animal products? Should I worry how I handle animals?

COVID-19 is originally a bat virus but likely was initially transmitted to humans via another mammal. However, now all the transmission is human to human, so animal contact will not make any difference for this virus. However, do note that there are other infections that can be acquired from animals. For example, there is anthrax from dead cattle who are then butchered. There is brucellosis from goats, sheep and other animals, and Salmonella from chickens and eggs. And don’t forget dogs; if they haven’t been immunized, they can transmit rabies when they bite. That means we must be careful with animals, but it won’t affect our getting the coronavirus.


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