Africa: You Need to Know the Latest Data to Avoid COVID-19

Garmai Garbo a nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, washes her hands.
23 March 2020

Ongoing research about SARS-CoV-2  – also called new Corona virus - the virus that causes COVID-19, is yielding new information daily, and there is still much to learn. Keep checking this page for news and emerging evidence to help you keep safe. Also read:  Where to Find the Latest, Trusted Coronavirus Info From Africa

How is the virus spread?

It is spread through the air and through contact with a contaminated surface.

Air - you can get the virus by being close enough to an infected person to come into contact with droplets from their respiratory system. Unlike measles, whose tiny droplets can stay in the air for hours, even after an infected person has left the room, SARS-CoV2 droplets are heavier, dropping from the air within about two metres (6.5 feet). That's an advantage you can use to protect yourself.

Surfaces - The virus can live for days on surfaces, and some infectious disease specialists now believe that touching surfaces that have the virus on them may be responsible for even more COVID19 infections than personal contact.

This is why it is so important to:

Stay at least two metres of physical distance from another person.

Wash hands often (preferred) or use a hand sanitizer if you have one.

Avoid touching your face – especially eyes, nose and mouth.

This brief video shows the proper technique for washing hands and is effective even when water is scarce. When no water tap is available, the technique can be used by pouring a small amount of water from a jug. The important thing is rubbing all hand surfaces with a suspension of soapy water for 20 seconds. Air drying is best.

How long does the virus last on surfaces? It varies. An experiment published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 17 March showed that the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols - the air you breath, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

If you must go out of your house, especially if you use public transportation, try very hard not to touch your face until you can wash your hands, and stay as far from other people as you possibly can. Use the same caution i f you use money or touch anything that someone has touched before you. This is hard for most people to observe, but the more you can do it, the more you reduce your risk. Every case that is prevented or delayed contributes to flattening the curve.

Is a person who shows no symptoms contagious?

Yes! From 31 January, when the first case of an asymptomatic person spreading the virus was documented , evidence has mounted that – very unlike Ebola – a person who has C OVID- 19 can shed large amounts of the virus before feeling or exhibiting any symptoms at all.

Some recent studies suggest that the most efficient spreaders of the virus may be in that group. That is why social distancing should be maintained by everyone. It makes SARS-CoV2 a stealth enemy, and therefore harder to eradicate than Ebola.

Are young people less likely to get COVID19?

No. There is little or no evidence that younger people contract the virus at lower rates than other older people. People under 19 may be less at risk, but an estimated 20 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been people between 20 and 64 years old. And a U.S. Centers for Disease Control analysis said on 18 March that one in five people needing hospital care were aged 20 to 44.

Still, the older people are, the sicker they are likely to become and the more likely they will die. Older people have higher rates of other illnesses, such as diabetes and lung disease, and their immune systems are normally weaker.

Can lockdowns and restricting movements end the outbreak?

Not on its own. Halting flights and reducing travel across borders can help delay the spread in the early stages of a country's outbreak. This helps to flatten the curve and gives governments more time to prepare for what's coming. But it won't block the virus.

What is flattening the curve?

The growth of cases, shown on a graph, can be a tall, fast rise or a lower curve over a longer period. This gives officials a better chance to implement effective policies and to mobilize resources. And that extra time also spaces out the cases that come for emergency medical care, so that health systems are less overwhelmed.

Can chloroquine treat COVID-19?

Many medications are being tried and tested, but there is no strong evidence yet that any of them work. There is hope - based on some Chinese use of chloroquine drugs, and an experiment in France that gave hydroxychloroquine along with the antibiotic azithromycin to 20 patients - that chloroquine-based drugs may become an effective treatment.

Use in the United States is being fast-tracked to see if it does work and to determine a safe dose, so everyone can hope for an answer before too long.

It is a MYTH that African use of chloroquine has kept rates of infection low. Chloroquine stopped being prescribed to treat malaria two decades ag o , including in Africa, because the malaria parasite became resistant to that treatment. The drug can cause blindness and death, and at least two Nigerians have died from chloroquine poisoning, after hearing the myth.
(Unrelated to COVID-19 , there is a happy possibility that chloroquine for malaria may make a comeback in the future, because long years without exposure to the drug appears to have somewhat reduced the parasite's resistance.)

Can anything be done to contain the virus?

Much can be done. As of 22 March, Taiwan had kept cases to below 170, with two deaths among 23 million citizens, by an aggressive programme of testing, tracing the contacts of infected people and isolating them while they remain contagious. It has protected health workers with PPEs – personal protective equipment – and was producing four million face masks daily by the end of January. Time magazine published one of the best descriptions of how Taiwan's democratic government uses technology, transparency and big data to overcome the threat.

Most nations across Africa cannot replicate the methods of Taiwan and other places which have limited the spread. There are not enough test kits or other resources. But there are strong responses across the continent that will make a difference.

For example, Nigeria tested, isolated and treated the first case – a visiting Italian, who recovered – and is doing large-scale tracing of all identified cases. Kenya has forcibly quarantined a deputy governor who refused to self-isolate after a visit to Germany, and health authorities say he will be charged with a crime.

Namibia, after one case was diagnosed, immediately cancelled its public presidential inauguration ceremony and diverted resources that would have been spent on the ceremony to fight SARS-CoV2. People across Africa can applaud any strong actions authorities take and everyone can collectively press for more to be done.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) RESOURCES

World Health Organization Africa | @WHOAFRO  | Facebook

Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention  | @AfricaCDC | Facebook

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