If you type in “coronavirus” on google, over 3.2 billion search results come up. As the virus continues to spread across the world, more and more websites have been coming out with information on the virus. But with so many links to click on and so much to digest, how do you tell the difference between what is true and what isn’t? There’s been so much fake news around the virus that it’s being referred to as an ‘infodemic’.
What is the coronavirus?
The World Health Organisation describes the coronavirus as “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases… a novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.”
Just this week, South Africa’s first case of the coronavirus was confirmed by the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) and the Department of Health. According to BBC, this has brought the total number of coronavirus cases reported in Africa to 27 with Algeria being the most affected country on the continent (17 cases).
The NICD also revealed that over 180 people have been tested for the coronavirus in South Africa and all those tests came back negative. It’s important to also note that there have been no deaths from the coronavirus in Africa, but globally, the death toll is currently standing at 3 200. Globally, there are now over 95 700 reported cases.
We spoke to Sinenhlanhla Jimoh, the Senior Communications Manager for the NICD, to get a clearer and facts-based picture of the virus that seems to be bringing the world to a standstill.
Is a face mask necessary?
All the images we’ve seen around the coronavirus include people wearing face masks to supposedly protect themselves against the disease. This has led to many people believing that they should wear face masks as a prevention method against the virus – but this is not recommended for ordinary folk.
“Using a face mask is not necessary for asymptomatic and well individuals,” Jimoh tells us. “Face masks have not been proven to prevent one from contracting the virus. Instead, it helps decrease the risk of transmitting the virus from an affected individual to a non-affected individual.”
How exactly is the disease transmitted?
One of the biggest myths around this is that you can contract the virus from getting a letter or package from China, or other highly affected areas – but WHO says that this won’t put you at risk for contracting the virus.
So how exactly can one contract it? Jimoh explains it for us.
“The virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets as well as direct contact – respiratory droplets being aerosolised particles from sneezes and coughs,” Jimoh explains.
“Direct contact refers to droplets being on surfaces with which you come into direct contact, such as tables or door handles. There are ongoing studies which seem to suggest that it could be transmitted in stool, however more research is being done on the matter.”
Is the coronavirus similar to the flu?
One of the biggest questions around the virus is whether it’s similar to flu or not and the answer is yes, but they are not the same thing.
“The virus is similar to flu in that they are both viruses and they present in a similar way,” Jimoh explains. “The symptoms for both include fever, sore throat, coughing and difficulty breathing. This is why we’re advising that people should get the flu vaccine in the meantime.” (We’ll get into why the flu vaccine is recommended in a minute.)
Can pets potentially be infected by or transmit the virus?
The simple answer to this is a steady and firm no. Jimoh explains that there is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes the coronavirus.
An article on the WHO’s website does, however, add that it’s always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.
“This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans,” WHO writes.
Can the flu vaccine protect you from the coronavirus?
Jimoh says that the NICD is currently recommending that people get the flu vaccine as they protect communities from the flu virus.
“It can’t protect you from the coronavirus, but a vaccine is currently in production and is expected to be available some time next year,” Jimoh says.
The WHO is also advocating for people to get the flu vaccine to protect their health on a general level.
Here are some other myths that you should not believe surrounding the coronavirus:
- Taking a hot bath will protect me from catching the virus: FALSE
- The coronavirus can be transmitted through mosquito bites: FALSE
- Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over my body will kill the coronavirus: FALSE
- Regularly rinsing my nose with saline will protect me from contracting the coronavirus: FALSE
- Eating garlic can help protect me against coronavirus: FALSE
- Antibiotics are effective in preventing and treating the coronavirus: FALSE
Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms for mild and severe cases of the coronavirus and how you can protect yourself from contracting it.
The common signs of infection, according to the WHO:
- Respiratory symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
… and the more severe symptoms include:
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome
- Kidney failure
How to protect yourself against the virus:
- Wash your hands regularly
- Cover your mouth and nose when cough and sneezing
- Cook meat and eggs thoroughly
- Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing