Pacific Family Health Journal: Article 15 – Controlling Spread of COVID-19: Corona Virus

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Public Awareness, Infection Control and Prevention Strategies Keys To Controlling Spread of COVID-19.

As the numbers of people infected with the new corona virus continue to increase globally, health authorities around the world are working around the clock to find the right treatment and continue to work towards a vaccine. Several clinical trials are underway and several companies have accelerated vaccine development.

Corona viruses are a big family of viruses. Some of the common infections caused by corona viruses include the common cold (flu) and SARS. Many Papua New Guineans would be familiar with the name SARS. COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019. The new virus causing COVID-19 has been named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 or SARS-CoV-2), the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003.

While countries with higher level of healthcare are able to treat severe cases, how can under resourced countries in the Pacific manage the outbreak? Although travel restrictions have been put in place by many countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend this measure as the sole strategy to contain and prevent outbreaks. Travel restrictions have far reaching negative economic and social effects. 

What we know from current medical evidence is that the spread of COVID-19 follows similar pattern to the spread of common cold. This means being in close contact with someone with the infection, touching contaminated surfaces then touching face (mouth, eyes) with the contaminated hands and being close to someone coughing can result in contracting the infection. Furthermore, current statistics from WHO show that 80% of people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and recover fully, 15% have moderate symptoms and require hospitalization and recover after prolonged admission and 5% have severe symptoms resulting in death. Also older persons (above the age of 60) who have other underlying chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma or other lung diseases appear to be at a higher risk compared to younger individuals.

Infection control and prevention with cough etiquette is the cheapest and most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Examples of cough etiquette practices include covering nose/mouth with tissue or handkerchief when coughing or sneezing, using a mask when coughing, discard tissues after coughing or sneezing after use, washing hands if in contact with cough or sneeze droplets, coughing into the elbow (don’t cough into your hands) and coughing into the inside of your clothes (Shirts, etc).

Disinfecting high contact areas (e.g. door knobs, table surfaces, sinks, etc), frequent hand washing before touching your face or eating/drinking and practicing cough etiquette is now being emphasized by WHO and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in USA as a key strategy to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. In resources limited settings like PNG where basic health services remain fragmented, basic hand washing hygiene, cleanliness, and cough etiquette still remain true. 

Dr Rodney Itaki, MBBS, BMedSci

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