There is a lot of confusing and misleading information on the internet about the coronavirus pandemic. To help clarify matters, The Jerusalem Post asked some Dr. Daniel Grupel, head of Infection Control Services at Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, to provide some answers.
People refer to the current pandemic as the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. What's the difference?
“Coronaviruses are fairly common viruses that cause disease in humans,” Grupel explained. “We see those diseases every winter. They are the most common viruses, and the cause of the common cold.”
However, there are a few exceptions to that rule.
In 2003, a new coronavirus emerged in China that caused a disease called a SARS, which led to a very acute very severe respiratory illness with a high mortality rate above 10%. That disease has since faded away.
Another severe coronavirus emerged in 2012, called Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). That also came from animals and had a very high high mortality rate of 30%. But it was not very infectious.
Today, we have the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which caused the disease COVID-19.
What are the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus?
Fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Can there be other symptoms?
Grupel said that there can be a “very wide variety of symptoms, among them allergies, muscle aches, body aches and some reports of loss of smell and loss of taste.”
Can you diagnose yourself with COVID-19 based on your symptoms?
“There is no definite way to diagnose coronavirus just by symptoms alone,” Grupel said. “There needs to be a clinical diagnosis, which requires laboratory testing.”
What kind of test is conducted for coronavirus?
The most common test is the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR screening, which was invented in the US in 1983. Grupel explained that this test tries to identify the genetic material of the virus itself in the sample.
“We usually swab from a spot inside the nose or mouth and look for the virus there,” he said. “There are other tests that are in development, but this is the best test that we have today.”
Do masks and gloves help protect you from coronavirus?
Gloves: “Wearing gloves reduces the number of times you wash your hands. I think washing your hands is more important than putting on gloves,” Grupel said. He said that washing one’s hands with soap and water or alcohol gel when water is not available is the best way to stay free of COVID-19.
Masks: Grupel said that they are not needed “when you go around the street or when you do your day-to-day business. Masks are especially useful if you feel ill and you have to go out of the house. If you have to go out of the house, then put a mask on yourself in order to protect others from your secretions, from your coughs or your sneezing.”
He said that surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare settings.
If you do become infected with coronavirus, how long does it take to recover?
Grupel said that the answer is still unknown. In the mild cases, it takes a few days to 14 days for the virus to clear out. In more severe cases, it can be a lot longer, even weeks.
There is no vaccine against AIDS or Ebola. What are the chances of finding a vaccine for COVID-19?
“I think chances are good,” Grupel said. “There are already vaccines in the pipeline that seem promising. Developing a vaccine, however, is a very lengthy process and it takes a lot of regulatory effort and a lot of trials. I think that we're going to have a vaccine in the next 12 or 18 months.”
What about the idea of herd immunity?
“Herd immunity” is a term used when a disease confers permanent immunity, the doctor explained.
“We don't know yet whether this virus will cause permanent immunity after you've had it once,” Grupel continued. “In order to have herd immunity, you need to have a lot of people immunized. I don't think we'll get that anytime soon.”