We have all been flooded by constant news updates regarding the good, the bad and the ugly of the Coronavirus. There has not been much good news, so for many of us, this has been a bit depressing and often overwhelming. As a result, some people are emptying the shops of essentials and self-isolating, while others are too scared to mention that they might have a cold, in case it jeopardizes their work. As a health-clinic, we have been putting together the most helpful information for this newsletter to help you make sense of what is happening and what is best to do.
The most common question I get asked is whether the Coronavirus is just a social media hype and whether it isn’t any worse than getting the flu virus.
In short, this virus is a serious problem, but if we do things correctly then there is nothing we need to worry about. We have seen that Corona is problematic for two reasons: Firstly, it is 2-3 times more contagious than the flu virus and secondly, for those few people who get a serious infection, there is a 20 times higher death rate than the flu virus.
There is a third factor, which is that although the flu virus takes only 1 to 3 days from infection to first symptoms (incubation period), the Coronavirus has a 14-day incubation. That means that for 14 days people can walk around infecting people without knowing they have the virus. So if we look at European countries like Germany, France and Spain, their 7000 odd cases of infection only reflects what was happening 14 days ago. The real number of infections could be in the region of 70 000 cases.
We have seen how countries like Japan and Singapore have learned from past SARS outbreaks, implemented a shutdown policy early and have restricted cases to just 800 and 200 respectively.
It took China a month to shut-down the affected areas resulting in 80 000 cases, but they are now on top of the infections and for the past month there have been very few new cases. Shops are starting to open again and the Chinese stock market is starting to move in a positive direction.
As we know, Italy is seen as the country that failed to move when they had fewer than 50 cases and a month later, they have over 28 000 cases, their medical system is swamped and their death rate is high.
The countries to watch are now the UK, USA, Germany, Spain and France as they are all teetering on the edge of an explosion of cases over the next two weeks.
The message is simple – if we practice social distancing while the government closes down international flights and large gatherings, then there is every chance that the vulnerable amongst us (asthma, TB, HIV, diabetes, hypertension and over-70s) will not get infected and within 2 months the epidemic will start to flatten and fade.
This flattening the curve (not allowing the virus to spread quickly through society) has two effects: firstly, it means that at any one time there will be fewer people needing hospital beds and secondly (as seen in Japan and Singapore) many vulnerable people simply won’t get infected.
We do need to be vigilant in July when South Africa hits mid-winter and there may be a smaller second wave of infections at the end of the year when Europe goes back into winter. However, I really do not think that there will be bank closures, riots or social unrest as some have predicted. This is a 2-month test of our character and some of the stories of the Italians singing opera from their flat balconies, people doing the shopping for the elderly and employers making sure their staff are well looked after are heart-warming.
So, armed with this knowledge, if we all practice social distancing, we will get through this safely. Our role as a health clinic is to be there to answer your medical questions.
As a medical clinic, we will be staying open but will be taking the necessary health precautions. If you have recently travelled or have flu symptoms then please don’t come to the clinic. We will rather offer you a telephonic consult. We have a sanitized policy in place and will have no more than 3 patients in the clinic at any one time.
We have immune-boosting treatments at the clinic to prevent all of our healthy patients getting ill. If however, you have flu symptoms, we will advise you over the phone and email you a script with immune-boosting supplements and injections. We monitor the local and global Corona figures on a daily basis. If at any stage the virus starts to overwhelm Cape Town then we will review the above policy. First and foremost we are here for our patient community in a safe manner.
In the next article, we will explain what you can do to optimize your own health and what further procedures we can do for you if you feel that your immune system is vulnerable.
Dr. Duncan Carmichael