With coronavirus spreading beyond its epicentre in China and numbers of the disease increasing globally, questions such as what distinguishes it from a common flu and what are some of the precautions that people should take become pertinent.
Better Health spoke to Dr Hend Al Awadhi, Head of Health Promotion and Education Section in the DHA’s Public Health Protection Department. She highlighted that in general, maintaining hand hygiene, particularly hand washing, avoiding travel to places with a high-rate of the infection and taking certain precautions, which are the same to avoid the flu are important steps.
Both flu and COVID-19 can spread from person to person through droplets from an infected person by coughing or sneezing or by direct contact.
Al Awadhi said, “People at a higher risk of contracting the disease, are people who have been in contact with a person who is confirmed to have COVID-19 or those who have travelled to certain countries where there has been a significant outbreak. People who have been in contact with a confirmed case or those who have flu-like symptoms after travel to such countries in the last 14 days much be seen by a healthcare provider to rule out COVID-19. Additionally, UAE airports are following all the necessary screening protocols. All healthcare providers in the UAE are well aware of the processes to follow and are receiving regular updates from the relevant health authorities. The system is streamlined and unified.”
In terms of the similarity with common flu and coronavirus, she said that the symptoms are flu-like and both cause fever, sore throat, cough, body aches and difficulty in breathing. “People at a risk of developing severe symptoms are those with chronic medical conditions or the elderly. Both flu and COVID-19 can spread from person to person through droplets from an infected person by coughing or sneezing or by direct contact.” She added that the incubation period for COVID-19 is two to 14 days.
She said that in general, people with flu should always follow certain precautions to avoid the spread of the disease. “Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, correct disposal of tissues; hand-hygiene is particularly important. I also find that people who are sick often go to work despite being sick with a flu; they should stay at home and go back to work after they have recovered. Of course, if they are people with risk factors that I mentioned, they must get themselves screened.”
Al Awadhi said that face masks are recommended for people who are sick with a flu to prevent infecting others but it is not a precaution to protect yourself against the flu or COVID-19. “In fact, if you wear it, there are chances of infecting yourself with a flu because every time you touch an infected surface and then you touch the mask, which is on your face, you increase the chances of infecting yourself. Most people do not know how to wear the mask and not everybody is aware of it.”
Instead of wearing a face mask, Al Awadhi said that it is better to maintain hand-hygiene, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and avoid close contact with anyone showing the symptoms. “If you don’t have access to soap and water use a hand sanitiser. If you greet someone with respiratory symptoms do not touch their hands or hug the person.”
In terms of recovery and treatment, she said, “It is a virus so there is only supportive treatment for the disease that helps control the symptoms such as fever and cold. Recovery of the patient depends on the patient’s immune system and the medical care provided. In most cases, patients recover once the body overcomes the virus.
She also added that people should only rely on information from official sources and those who have any query can call the following numbers DHA call centre - 800 342, Estijaba service at the operation centre, Department of Health – 800 1717 or Ministry of Health & Prevention – 800 11111.