By M. Govind Nair
KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 -- Even as COVID-19 is wreaking havoc around the world, it has arguably helped to increase the vocabulary of many people over the last three months or so.
Inevitably, COVID-19, which appears in the previous sentence, is one of the new words in our vocabulary.
WHO, the World Health Organisation, came up with the name COVID-19 for the coronavirus disease that broke out in Wuhan, China, late December 2019.
CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease. Then, there is a hyphen (-) and 19, which stands for 2019.
Until Feb 11, when WHO came up with the term, COVID-19 was referred to as the novel coronavirus, novel meaning new. The virus is actually called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
WHO, in keeping with its identified best practices for the naming of new human diseases, aims to “minimise the unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
Thus, COVID-19. And not Wuhan virus or Chinese virus.
A coronavirus is, simply, a virus that causes respiratory disease in animals and humans. Corona stands for crown because of the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus.
Other types of coronavirus are MERS-CoV that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, which was first identified in 2012, and the SARS-CoV that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, identified in 2003.
The COVID-19 outbreak first occurred in Wuhan. WHO defines outbreak as the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy.
Then, you may have come across epidemic and pandemic.
The dictionary defines epidemic as affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time.
It defines pandemic as an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. Like in the case of COVID-19, world-wide.
WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.
What we know is that COVID-19 spreads from one person to another through respiratory droplets which get into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
It is also possible for one to catch the disease by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
At this point, the original infected person may or may not show any symptoms or indications of the disease. He or she may be asymptomatic (showing no signs of the disease) or symptomatic (showing signs).
COVID-19 symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Remember, it is a respiratory disease.
The symptoms can appear within 14 days after exposure to the virus. The two weeks is the incubation period, the time from the moment of exposure to the virus until signs or symptoms of the disease appear.
People within one metre of an infected person who sneezes or coughs stand the risk of being infected. These people are referred to as the close contacts because of their proximity to the infected person for some period of time.
It is for this reason that people are encouraged to practise social distancing which simply means staying apart from each other, at least one metre, or, as some countries are recommending, two metres.
Working from home, closing schools and offices, and cancelling or postponing large meetings and gatherings are various forms of social distancing.
The idea is to break the chain of infection, meaning to stop the spread of the disease.
Once a person is confirmed to have been infected, he or she must be isolated, usually at a hospital. Isolation separates sick people from people who are not sick.
However, a person who is suspected to have been infected is quarantined. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to the disease to see if they become sick.
Malaysians who are brought back from countries with COVID-19 outbreaks are placed under quarantine for 14 days before being certified clear and sent home.
Some people opt to self-quarantine themselves, usually in their homes, to make sure that they are safe and have not contracted the disease and, if they did, do not expose others as well.
Once an infected person is identified and hospitalised, contact tracing begins. This is the process of identification of the people (close contacts) who may have come into contact with the infected person.
Contact tracing usually leads the health investigators to a source where the infection originated. The source may be overseas if the infected person has a history of recent travel abroad or it could be a local meeting or gathering, which is then identified as a cluster.
All the close contacts will be asked to test for COVID-19. They will be quarantined pending the test results and isolated in hospital if positive to the disease.
The homes and offices of infected persons will be disinfected, cleaned to destroy the virus.
The government of all countries with COVID-19 infections put in place measures to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of the disease. This is to keep the daily number of cases at a manageable level for healthcare workers. This is flattening the curve.
It is opposed to an exponential spike or a rate of increase that becomes quicker and quicker as the disease infects more and more people.
Malaysia imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) for two weeks, from March 18 to 31, to check and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19. The MCO has been declared under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967.
The MCO period has been extended now by two more weeks to April 14.
Stay home. Stay safe. Stay informed.
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