With the shutdown of schools and universities as well as the recent decision to shut down the airports, there is no escape from the discussion of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Some might see this as an overreaction from the government; others see it as crucial courses of action, and some even suggest these actions came a little late.
Whichever you are, we here at Contra believe in finding the accurate and credible information that we can all can trust. So we reached out to Dr. Sherif Shamseldein, an Epidemiologist at the MoHP, who thankfully spared a bit of time to answer our questions.
Coronavirus. What's all the fuss about?!
"Corona is originally a family of viruses with several subtypes that can cause the seasonal common cold; one of these subtypes is the normal influenza. Every couple of years, a mutation could occur; the first was SARS, which happened between 2002 and 2003, and the most recent mutation is the COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, where it came from we can’t tell, no one knows the source yet."
Should We Be Afraid? Should We Panic?
"Should we be afraid? Yes. Should we panic? No...Yes, because it's an outbreak. The fatality rate worldwide isn't high, but the numbers are. Let’s say, for example, that we had an illness that killed 1% of our country’s population, it's just 1%, but that 1% actually equates to 1 million people, which is not a small number. It’s the same with COVID-19.
We shouldn’t panic as it leads to bigger problems. People are already going out and buying things excessively, leaving stores empty. It’s a disease that is fatal for senior citizens, those with weak immune systems, and those who already are sick, for example, those with chronic illnesses. The reason for the high numbers of fatalities in Europe is their high number of senior citizens."
The Government Suspended Schools and Universities, Was This a Necessary Decision?
"These are preventive measures. Our society’s norms unfortunately don’t help us; and we have our shortcomings in the health awareness department… People will still to this day persist to kiss and hug every time they meet, our hygiene practices are not good either. Besides that all those people in crowded places and transportation would ultimately lead to the spread of the virus. Hence the decision."
What are the steps taken by the MoHP to track cases in Egypt?
"Till now, we have 256 cases. How do we know? Generally, detecting infectious diseases happens through a process called surveillance. First, when a hospital confirms a COVID-19 case, a notification is sent to MoHP immediately, which is passive surveillance. The second type is active surveillance, in which a team from MoHP go to visit the location of confirmed cases’ residency, check their families, and other contacts at work, etc… But, in the end you can't reach 100% of cases, not just in Egypt, this is everywhere."
One Might Ask, “If I’m Healthy, Why Stay Home”?
"We have to agree there are carriers; they carry the disease with them, they don't show symptoms, but they can transmit the disease to other people. Maybe you are a carrier because you have good immunity, but you’re risking others. Those carriers are a risk to your health, so it is better to stay at home."
How do we Carry Out Daily Activities? What to do When Going to the Supermarket? The Gym? Or any Public Place?
"General hygiene. Always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds at a time, and always use Strellium or alcohol. Don’t touch your face after you’ve touched any surface. You don’t really need a mask unless you are sick or have someone sick in your home. If you bring home something from outside, wipe it down with Chlorine [like Clorox] and water.
Regarding the gym, viruses love dark and wet surfaces; gyms are very humid and most items are stainless steel, plus, this virus survives for a long while on hard surfaces, especially stainless steel and glass. I would strongly recommend people avoid gyms at the moment."
Should we stock up on Food/Drink?
"Why?! No one said there’ll be a compulsory lockdown yet. Shop normally as you would. No need to stack on groceries. You don’t need to stay at home 24/7, just limit going out to when necessary."
Why isn’t there an obligatory lockdown like in China or Italy?
"Because we’re not there yet. There’s no need to lock down everyone when we’re still not at that point. In Italy, they denied the situation at first, they kept saying it was the common cold, they took the decision when they reached a very high number of cases and they have many deaths because of the high number of seniors. Their hospitals can't take more patients and they’ve decided to select cases because of the limited capacity. It's obviously very difficult to make such a decision, but they had to. It's a type of categorization that is done in the case of emergencies."
What should we eat/drink to protect our health?
"Yes, healthy eating is important. Nothing specific. Fruits, vegetables, and warm drinks. They support the immune system. Try to eat healthy…we’re talking about natural and fresh products."
What medications should we take and avoid?
"You don't have to take any medication unless you get the virus. Don’t take antibiotics when you are not even sick. A medication could aggravate the virus in one person, and the same medication could treat another person. Always consult a doctor. Some studies say to avoid anti-inflammatory painkillers, but it’s not final. If you have symptoms, seek medical advice, not the pharmacy. Go to a doctor!"
How do I know if I have the virus? What’s the difference between Corona and the regular Influenza?
"It’s different, because with Corona, a person experiences a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, unlike Influenza where a person experiences more sneezing and a runny nose. However, it’s fair to say that we can’t differentiate between them by just the symptoms, a test must be taken to confirm the diagnosis.
Till now all cases are related to travel one way or another, if you have just arrived from abroad or had just met someone who had just arrived from abroad, then you could be at risk."
If I suspect I have the virus what should I do
"The MoHP safety hotline is 105. They will direct you to the nearest fever hospital. You could also visit your doctor, who could identify whether it is a suspected case of COVID-19 or not."
What to do to protect people around you and not spread it?
"If you have symptoms, call the hotline, go to the doctor or the fever hospital. Till the test results arrive, the person suspected to have the infection has to be isolated and interact with only 1 person in the family who is healthy and young. The room has to have good ventilation and the care-taker has to wear a mask and wash his/her hands frequently.
If you are a healthy individual, act normal, you have nothing to be worried about, just use the normal precautions we mentioned before. It is also better to avoid crowds and big family gatherings till all of this is over."
Will leaving Cairo and going to a city less populated protect me?
"I can't say if it's wrong or right. But, it's not a bad idea. If you are healthy, don’t need care, and can do self isolation, fine."
You’ve probably seen the many jokes implied about the minister and the ministry’s incapability to handle the situation, with even implications of the ministry providing incomplete or dishonest information about the spread of the virus. What’s your opinion on all of this?
"I think the memes are upsetting, not for the minister, public figures get this all the time. The problem is it negatively affects the people who work on the field like myself who are working on-ground, had to leave their families, and come in contact with Corona patients. The idea that the risk we are taking is taken as a joke, kind of does hurt."
Why should people trust a government with a history of incompatibility and a current cabinet that has failed to win people’s trust?
"We do have a big issue with trusting the government. There’s a problem with our superiors’ incapability of displaying our work and efforts. But do trust that the numbers shared with the public are the ones we discovered. If you have trouble trusting the ministry — trust the WHO — they are currently following up with the MoHP, and both their numbers and information provided are the same."
What is #flatteningthecurve?
"Any outbreak has a curve, which is the number of cases vs. time. Flattening the curve means having a smaller number of cases over a long period of time. If the curve is not flat, you’d have a greater number of cases over a short period of time. Thankfully, till now, we have a small number of cases to deal with, so can provide good care to each case. But, if we have 100 cases a day, we would have to pick and choose who to care for and who to send home to their fate. Just like what Italy is doing now."
What happens if the number of cases increases in Egypt and worldwide?
"We are already seeing interventions, but cases can escalate if things get worse till they find a vaccine or treatment. IF the Coronavirus acts like most regular viruses, cases should decrease by summer as most viruses can’t survive the heat and sun. We will have to wait and see. Just rest assured that for every stage there is a professional plan in place."
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Please stay home, stay safe, and take the necessary precautions in everything that you do and say. Make sure you are not spreading false information that might incite panic at a time when calmness and order are desperately needed.
Let us pray for those who have been inflicted by the disease, may God bless those who have passed and protect those who are in danger.
All of us here at CairoContra would also like to send out our prayers for those men and women in the health service putting their lives and health safety on the line for their patients and us all. We pray for them and their families, may you be reunited in safety and good health. May God bless you all for your work and sacrifices.
*the information in this article is updated as of the date of this interview.