TURNING POINT: Revisiting the Virus: Resurgence and Control

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 10 June) – The resurgence of the COVID-19 virus is getting scary as it now leaps from the metro and is being fast replicated in the provinces in the advent of highly contagious variants.

As the virus is now going rural, authorities need to invest in massive information drive about it, the disease it causes and how it spreads to control transmission, soothe frayed nerves and forestall panic responses. Knowledge is crucial in understanding the need and in promoting the observance of health protocols.

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Disease control experts have proclaimed that SARS Cov-2 remains infectious outside a living host for as much as 3 days. The virus on objects around us – in clothing, equipment and other various households and workplace items that came from the droplets of an infected person, is  contagious and transmissible by touch within that 3-day period. Meanwhile, aerosol virus or virus suspended in the air inside enclosed area lasts for 3 hours. Beyond that length of time, the virus is already destroyed and gone.

There is, therefore, a need to disinfect regularly spaces that are generally occupied by a number of people. Handwashing or sanitizing should be done now and then. And face mask should always be worn in leaving home; and as much as possible, enclosures or places with less ventilation frequented by many people should be avoided.

Accordingly, the virus in a live host or an infected person has an incubation period from within 5 to 10 days, based on studies of earlier known SARS and MERS virus. The incubation period refers to that time between the entry of the virus into the body and the appearance of initial symptoms. But whether or not the person shows symptoms of the disease, he is contagious during this period. The person ought to be located and isolated to contain the transmission.

Here lies the significance of case investigation, contact tracing and antigen mass testing to fast-track the isolation of known COVID-19 positives and the quarantine of their close contacts.

An antigen test will detect the presence of a protein—the nucleocapsid protein—which is part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is the cause of COVID-19. An antigen test basically looks for those fragments of antigens within a person’s body to see if they’re infected; the result is available in 15 minutes.

A person that shows symptoms of early infection, such as fever, headache and dry cough, undergoes an RT-PCR test (swab-tested) to confirm the presence of the virus in his body. If found positive, he has to be isolated. If the symptoms worsen, he has to be moved to a healthcare facility for treatment.

Incidentally, individuals differ in their reaction to the virus; they could get mild, moderate or severe symptoms at different length of time upon infection or would display no symptoms at all (asymptomatic). The defining factor of the variance is primarily the state of their immune system. Those with robust immune system are likely to experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Whereas, those with underlying illness, like diabetes, hypertension, pulmonary issues and cancer, are likely to suffer severe symptoms that may include breathing difficulty, splitting headache, dehydration, and excruciating body pain.

The close contacts of the positive person identified through case investigation and contact tracing are presumed to be infected with the disease and require immediate quarantine to prevent viral transmission.

The 14-day length of isolation or quarantine is based on the 10-day longest  possible time of incubation of most known coronavirus –SARS and MERS. The additional 4 days is a safety margin. Being novel, SARS-CoV-2 incubation period is not yet accurately established. From their studies, the scientists of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggest that the incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 is between 2 and 14 days. Based on initial data, around 97 percent of infected patients showed symptoms within 11.5 days, and the average incubation period is said to be around 5 days. This is just a rough estimation of the incubation period, and it may change when scientists learn more about this virus.

The current practice is to isolate a positive with mild symptoms in an local government unit facility or at home when the former is in capacity, and move him to a healthcare facility when the symptoms worsen.

Those who received treatment and recovered from healthcare facilities are released after a period of isolation and monitoring. They are considered already free of the virus and may be allowed to rejoin their family and the community.

Meanwhile, those, who were in close contact with the positive person for 15 minutes and beyond, are presumed infected of the virus and are quarantined for 15 days. If they showed no symptoms within the quarantine period, they are presumed asymptomatic or were not adversely affected by the virus. They are also considered free of the virus and are free to return to family and community life at the end of their quarantine.

The positives who underwent treatment and survived, and those who were isolated for 14 days, which had recovered untreated, have acquired natural immunity from the disease.

The  close contacts who were not swab-tested but were presumed infected of the disease and who were also in quarantine for 14 days, have also  theoretically acquired natural immunity.

All those who graduated from isolation and quarantine facilities are advised to continue observing minimum health protocols for the safety and security of everyone, considering the influx of new variants around us. One never knows.

Meanwhile, since SARS CoV-2 is only over a year with us, no studies have been done yet on the longevity of natural immunity: it is not yet scientifically known whether those who acquired natural immunity have lifetime protection against COVOD-19. As it is better to err on the side of caution, people in this group are encouraged to get the jab.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is a retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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