March 4, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Physician’s and Biologist’s Opinion

Recently, global attention has been drawn to the spread of the COVID-19, first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. There have been a lot of rumors going around it today. On the one hand, information space is oversaturated with reports of the coronavirus, and on the other, there is a low level of public awareness about it. Karazin University experts expressed their opinions on the origin, spread and prevention of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The expert is Doctor of Medical Sciences, Head of the Department of General and Clinical Immunology and Allergology of the University School of Medicine, high level infectious disease physician Tetiana Liadova.

How dangerous is the novel coronavirus? Are fears about it overblown?

The COVID has overcome interspecific barriers before, acquiring new properties and becoming pathogenic to humans. The emergence of new pathogenic virus strains against which the population lacks protective antibodies always leads to a rapid, widespread dissemination of the disease, numerous complications and fatal cases. The infectious process depends on many factors. These are the factors of the virus itself and the factors of human immune protection. We all know that when a family is infected with the same virus, the course of the disease can be different: one family member has a mild form and another a severe one, sometimes with significant complications. Thus, for example, during the 2009 flu pandemic or swine flu, young people who did not have antibodies to this type of virus tolerated the disease very badly, whereas middle-aged and elderly people who had the Hong Kong flu in the 1970s and 1980s, had a mild and moderate-heavy form of the disease, without complications.

With COVID-19, severe atypical pneumonia with fatal outcome occurs rarely and only in 2-3% of patients. This is lower than the percentage of complications from the usual pandemic seasonal flu circulating annually in Ukraine. And far less than during the previous SARS epidemic in China. Back in 2002–2003, mortality from severe acute respiratory syndrome or “atypical pneumonia” was up to 10%.

What, in your opinion, is the reason for such a high level of panic about the disease?

One of the distinctive features of this epidemic is that the COVID-19 virus is more resistant to the environment, has different transmission mechanisms: airborne, contact, alimentary — and it has a long incubation period. If it is 3-5 days for influenza virus and SARS, it is up to 14 days for this coronavirus strain. Sometimes the incubation period lasts up to 25 days. In this regard, people who suffer from mild and inapparent forms of the disease continue to visit public places and infect others.

How do people become infected?

This virus may be more resistant to temperature changes than other SARS. The COVID-19 infection occurs through the mucous membrane of the eyes, nose, and nasopharynx. It should be noted that sneezing people can leave viral particles on the surfaces of tables, chairs, door handles, which can further spread the virus.

How to prevent the coronavirus infection?

First of all, wearing a mask cannot protect you from the virus, again, you can get infected through the mucous membrane of the conjunctiva. Transmission is also possible by touching an infected surface. The mask should be worn by the ill person, so as not to spread the infection. If you are ten meters away from a person who is sneezing or coughing, the risk of infection is low.

Based on the experience of previous epidemics, all measures taken to prevent acute respiratory viral infections are certainly appropriate in this case. Personal hygiene, hand washing, room ventilation, wet cleaning are important methods of prevention. By the way, Kharkiv doctors already have diagnostic test systems that can be used to confirm the diagnosis of coronavirus infection. I understand the population’s fears, but today this infection is not included in the group of particularly dangerous infections, unlike the Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and others. Therefore, assessing various risks, we believe that the current possibilities of pharmacy will change the situation to adequate, not hysterical one, in the near future.

The expert is Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor of the Department of Zoology and Animal Ecology, Deputy Dean of the School of Biology of Karazin University Dmytro Shabanov.

What do you think people should do to prepare for the epidemic?

Today, humanity is becoming more and more vulnerable to new infections. This is because the current population structure of mankind is ideal for the spread of new diseases. High population density, active contacts, fast travel, a large number of transport hubs where people from different countries interact, all this creates a great atmosphere for transmitting infections. In this situation, there is a great danger of diseases with a latent period, a period during which the symptoms have not yet manifested, but the infection transmission is already possible.

Epidemics similar to today’s coronavirus epidemic are expected and will continue to occur. The more global humanity becomes, the more dangerous and widespread the epidemics will be. And we need to prepare for this.

I want to emphasize that when such epidemics begin, the leaders are those countries that develop basic medicine, biology and the epidemiological surveillance system.

What advice would you give to our fellow citizens in this situation?

Do not be just scared expecting the arrival of COVID-19, take at least basic preventative measures: wash your hands, ventilate the premises and do wet cleaning. Remember that the seasonal flu epidemic has already spread throughout the whole world, and according to the Public Health Center, in Ukraine during the last week, ten people have died from the flu complications. In general, 245,055 people have become infected with SARS in Ukraine this year, and there have been 48 deaths since the start of the epidemic season, and none of those who died was vaccinated. By the way, the spread of measles and whooping cough epidemics is a result of anti-vaccination propaganda, which takes away children’s lives. Fortunately, the coronavirus disease is relatively easy for children to tolerate.

Healthy lifestyle, simple protection and hope for a better future is what will help not only during the coronavirus epidemic, if it reaches us, but also during subsequent pandemics and epidemics.

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