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Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 March 2020

This week in coronavirus - what science is currently saying

The first case of the new coronavirus was reported in South Africa on 5 March 2020. Let’s take a look at the latest discoveries regarding the new coronavirus.

As South Africa is reeling from the news of the first local case of the Covid-19 virus, identified in Kwazulu-Natal on 5 March 2020, people are looking for the most reliable information on the topic. 

In this article, we round up the most recent studies and scientific discoveries about the Covid-19 virus to answer some of the most pressing questions:

1. Are small children and babies at risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus?

While the Covid-19 virus is affecting thousands of people, especially older people with pre-existing medical conditions, it seems children are not badly affected. So if you are currently in South Africa with young children and worried about their health, research has found that, while children can carry the Covid-19 virus, the symptoms aren't as serious in children. According to the scientists, there are several factors at play causing the median age for coronavirus-related deaths to be a high 75.

Read the full article here.

2. Is the virus mutating?

We've often heard that the influenza virus tends to mutate seasonally. And the new coronavirus causing Covid-19 was at first found to be very similar to the coronavirus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. Scientists have, however, confirm that while there may be similarities, this virus has never been seen before.

It seems that this new strain of coronavirus has already mutated. Scientists who recently published their study in the National Science Review have confirmed that there are two strains after the virus and they have classified them as the 'L' and 'S' type strains. The data sample is still very small, and the study needs a larger, in-depth follow-up. Read more here.

3. Would we be able to contain such viruses better if travel history was included in our medical records?

While it’s always been important to mention recent travel activities to your doctor when suddenly coming down with an illness, the Covid-19 virus has made this even more important.

Documented travel history could lead doctors to gather more information, conduct further tests, and quickly order protective measures for patients' families, co-workers and other people they come into contact with.

The researchers added that travel history in electronic health records can be integrated with computerised decision-making to suggest specific diagnoses in recent travellers.

This article appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine and was mentioned earlier this week in a Health24 article.

4. Is the African continent still 'safe'?

While more than 3 000 people worldwide have died of Covid-19 and there are close to 100 000 cases in a number of countries, sub-Saharan Africa – which is generally deemed a vulnerable region – has had a meagre number of cases.

Experts are questioning why this may be. Some believe it could be because of the hotter climate, but there is no evidence suggesting that climate may impact the virus. Read the full article here.

5. Can washing your hands help protect you against the coronavirus?

In short, yes. You might have heard many theories about which masks to wear, whether masks actually work and whether hand sanitiser is better than plain old soap and water.

Washing your hands is really a good preventative measure. Why? Because science says so: Research proving that handwashing can kill off germs and bacteria has been around for a long time, but MIT recently conducted a study to identify the hand hygiene technique that would contribute most to reduce the risk of global epidemics.

Still not convinced? Read this recent article.

READ | 8 fast facts on the new coronavirus

READ | Is coronavirus really like the flu? Here's a comparison

READ | Your 10 most searched coronavirus questions answered

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