For a long time, the coronavirus seemed like a distant worry, some other country’s problem, but with the first case being reported in South Africa this week it might be time to start worrying. Face masks and hand-sanitisers are selling out at Dischem, and your auntie is abusing the broadcast message function with long fake news essays about the virus. But before you stockpile on tinned foods and surgical masks, here’s what South Africans need to know about the disease:
What is coronavirus?
It’s a type of virus that feels like typical flu at first. Symptoms include fever and a cough which after about a week can then develop to include shortness of breath and severe pneumonia. Coronavirus can be deadly, but mainly to people with weakened immune systems (such as people with diabetes, cancer or HIV) and the elderly.
What’s the difference between coronavirus and the flu?
The common cold and coronavirus, unfortunately, seem very similar at first, making it hard to differentiate between the two without a test. Coronavirus’s main symptoms are fever, tiredness, muscle pain, a dry cough, and feeling short of breath. The flu usually results in a sore throat, which is not one of the symptoms of coronavirus.
People who suspect they have coronavirus are advised to call their doctor or 0800 029 999 (the number for The National Institute for Communicable Diseases) rather than leave the house and risk spreading the disease.
Should we be wearing masks to prevent it?
In short, no. Dr Jake Dunning, Head of Emerging Infections and Zoonoses, Public Health England, told Cosmopolitan UK that face masks are useful for health professionals in settings like hospitals and clinics, but there is ‘very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use beyond this.’
‘Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviours in order for them to be effective,’ Dr Dunning says.
Rather than buying face masks, stock up on soap. ‘People concerned about the transmission of infectious diseases would do better to prioritise good personal, respiratory and hand hygiene,’ says Dr Dunning. Shower regularly, wash your hands well (for about 20 seconds) and often, and cough into a tissue.
The coronavirus in South Africa: What we know
There is only one reported case so far
Currently, there are only two reported cases of coronavirus in South Africa; a 38-year old man who travelled from Italy, via Dubai, into King Shaka International Airport near Durban. He has been taken to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg to receive treatment and the doctor who initially treated him has isolated herself. The government has advised South Africans not to panic and are tracking down the people who shared a plane with the infected man.
[WATCH]: Dr Robyn Reed, the Hilton doctor that treated South Africa’s first coronavirus patient spoke exclusively to @etvNewsSA this morning. She says the patient is doing well. And cautions residents not to panic. #CoronaVirusSA #covid19SA pic.twitter.com/KacIMquRdL
— Nabeelah Shaikh (@Nabeelah_Shaikh) March 6, 2020
Your medical aid probably has you covered
If you have medical aid it’s likely your provider will cover you if you need to get tested or contract the coronavirus. Discovery Health, Profmed and Momentum Health have all stated that their members are covered for coronavirus testing. If a person contracts pneumonia because of coronavirus (which is common) it will be covered as a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) condition in South Africa, according to The Council for Medical Schemes.
Big gatherings might be placed on hold
Some other countries have banned large gatherings to reduce the spread of the virus. In a press conference this week the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, declared that the government will be talking to churches and sporting bodies about any upcoming gatherings, such as easter celebrations and soccer matches, and whether they will still go ahead.
We need to up our hand-washing game
It’s estimated that 97% of us are washing our hands wrong. You should spend a good 20 seconds (that’s two renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’) to really remove germs. Because coronavirus is mostly spread through droplets hand-washing is one of the best steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting it.
World Health Organisation says don’t panic
According to the World Health Organisation, most people who catch the coronavirus will only have mild symptoms and will ‘recover without needing special treatment’. The mortality stats are kinda scary, with 2.3% to 3.4% of coronavirus cases resulting in death. However, this doesn’t include people with mild or no symptoms who have been exposed to the coronavirus, so the actual mortality rate is much lower.
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