New details are emerging about how the novel coronavirus is spread, but the basic mechanics of how we catch it is pretty simple.
We get it by touching, talking with, being sneezed or coughed on by someone already infected. Or touching something they have touched.
The difficulty, as new analysis makes clear, is that most of us will become sick from interacting with people who look perfectly healthy. They don’t have any visible symptoms, they don’t know they’re sick and neither do the people around them.
Don’t rely on people looking healthy
This is an important breakthrough, because we have to make the awful but realistic assumption that anyone we have contact with could be infected.
This underlines why we must to practise stringent self-protective measures, including social distancing, and here is how.
The fact is, anyone around you could have the virus. It’s up to you to avoid catching it off them.
Researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands have used outbreak data from clusters in Singapore and Tianjin to work out what’s known as the “generation interval” for COVID-19, the disease spread by the virus.
The generation interval is the time between one person getting infected and them infecting another.
The study, which is undergoing peer review, found that up to two-thirds of those infected in Singapore appeared to have caught it from people who were symptom-free.
Up to three-quarters of those infected in Tianjin seemed to have caught it from people not displaying any symptoms.
This is what we know so far:
- Coronavirus is spread in viral droplets projected in sneezes and cough
- To infect you, these droplets have to travel from an infected person’s nose or mouth into your eyes, nose or mouth
- This can be direct: They sneeze or cough without covering up and you get invisibly (or sometimes not, depending how close you are) hit in the face
- Infection can also be indirect: From being touched by an infected hand
- The hand may have been sneezed into by an infected person, who then shook your hand: You in turn touched your face and presto. You’re infected.
You can also pick up the virus from hard surfaces and objects handled by an infected person.
Think of how many people have clung to the same pole or hanging strap that you’re now clinging to on the morning train.
Think of how many dirty fingertips have pressed that elevator button.
Think about who has rested their hand on your desk at work.
There’s a lot to think about.
And all of that from some fool sneezing into his hand and not immediately washing that hand for 20 seconds.
The World Health Organisation has advised that you should keep at least a metre away from a person showing symptoms.
Of course a sneeze tends to happen out of the blue. Most often you can’t predict it.
And since we can’t know for sure who among us has the virus, we need to practise social distancing.
The US Centres for Disease Control have advised keeping about two metres away from people who pose a risk.
A study published on March 10 has found that most people start exhibiting symptoms five days after being infected.
But in some cases, people have remained infection-free for 14 days.
Meanwhile, they have become infectious.
Opinion: Sneezing into an elbow or armpit or a tissue should be legally mandated, especially in a health emergency.
Readers, please discuss in comments below.