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It’s a scene straight from a horror movie. A mysterious disease with a frightening spike in the number of infection cases. An epidemic spreading all over the world. Bodies lying on the streets. Countries closing their borders. The furious hoarding and shortage of health supplies. The rabid search for a cure. The world in bated breath, wondering when it would all be over.
Welcome to 2020 – the year the world was introduced to a novel coronavirus. And we’re barely on the second month.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in many different species of animals. This novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) was first detected in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China. From there, the virus has affected 28 countries and territories around the world.
Is the COVID-19 the deadliest virus known to man?
While it is still early to make definitive statements regarding the mortality rate of the COVID-19, early estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Health Commission of China (NHC-China) pegs the COVID-19 fatality rate at 2% – meaning out of the total number of confirmed cases, only 2% of the infected die. This is most probably an overestimate since mild cases are almost certainly not being reported/diagnosed.
Compare this to the common rabies, which has the dubious distinction of having nearly a 100% fatality rate if left untreated. Even its cousins, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are significantly deadlier (9.5% and 34.5%, respectively).
Most of the deaths from the novel coronavirus were also constrained to certain parameters – about 80% of those who died were over 60 years old. A compromised immune system also contributes to the fatality rate. More than 75% of those who perished had other/complicating illnesses such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and even tumor.
If that’s the case, why is the world panicking over COVID-19?
Due to the newness of the disease, there are so many things we don’t fully know about the COVID-19. Can it be spread through the feces of animals? How long can the virus survive on surfaces? What happens when the virus mutates? To date, there is also no known cure nor is there an existing vaccine for the COVID-19. As such, countries are scrambling to implement measures that will help manage the spread of the disease.
The WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the COVID-19 outbreak last January 30. Several countries have already enacted travel restrictions, and mandatory quarantine measures are enforced regarding people traveling from China. Russia has even closed its land border with China. Cruise ships where there are confirmed cases are quarantined (including the Diamond Princess, where a Filipino crew member tested positive). Still, new cases are reported almost every day.
The transmissibility (how rapidly the disease spreads) of a disease is indicated by the average number of persons that will catch the disease from a single infected person. For the 2019-nCoV, it is at 4.08 (four people will get infected for every single person who already has the disease). Again, since it is still early and the fact that mild cases are probably not being detected properly, this number is suspected to be lower than what it really is.
The truth is that we don’t know enough about the COVID-19 to be lax in our efforts. In cases of uncertainty, it is better to be expansively more careful than to be unprepared and be caught with our pants down.
Infographic created by Seafarer Asia.
What can I do to protect myself?
First off, if you’ve traveled to China and are experiencing respiratory symptoms, immediately go to your healthcare provider to be checked out. If you’ve been in contact with someone who has been in contact with someone who was infected with the coronavirus, get a doctor to look at you. It’s better to be sure.
Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. This is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease. Mind that you don’t touch your face if you haven’t washed your hands. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
Practice respiratory hygiene. If you have respiratory symptoms, always have a tissue with you. Discard used tissues immediately. Do not use your hands when you cough – you’ll spread the virus to whatever you touch. Even the elbow-cover method still has a ‘blast area’ so it’s better to be prepared with a tissue.
If you didn’t travel to China but are experiencing respiratory symptoms, remain at home until you have recovered, if possible.
Use the appropriate face masks to prevent spreading the germs. If you don’t have respiratory symptoms, using a face mask isn’t necessary – washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is a far more effective way to protect yourself.
Avoid crowds if possible. If necessary to venture out, maintain a distance of 1 meter between you and other people.
Avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. If you’re going to wet markets or areas where there are live animals, practice general hygiene measures.
Are there specific tips for seafarers?
The International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) has issued a guideline on how shipping companies can manage the threat of the COVID-19. Aside from the usual hygiene instruction, shipping crew and companies are advised to store facial protection for all crew (5 pcs/person), provide influenza vaccination, secure any person on board to their cabin if he/she has fallen sick and has traveled to affected areas, and to fill the Maritime declaration of health and notify the port authority if there is anyone sick on board.
The U.S. Coast Guard has likewise issued a bulletin for COVID-19 precautions.
Stay calm. Be vigilant.
Although the COVID-19 is scary, there is no reason to panic. Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious diseases expert, says, “Airborne transmission of nCoV is NOT CONFIRMED and is UNLIKELY. Transmission of nCoV is MAINLY DROPLET and CONTACT. This means that if someone sneezes, as long as you are more than 6 feet away, you aren’t likely to be infected even if you don’t have a mask on. Contact means that if droplets from someone’s sneeze lands on a surface and you touch it and put your fingers in your mouth, nose or eyes, you MAY get infected. So ALWAYS wash your hands.”
So keep yourself informed and abreast of the latest announcements and news. Avoid crowds whenever possible. And always practice proper hygiene.