New Delhi: The initial reports of the new coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, China, in December 2019, with patients indicating pneumonia-like symptoms. As of March 23, according to World Health Organisation’s situation report, more than 3.32 Lakh cases had been confirmed worldwide and more than 14,500 fatalities. With the number of cases increasing exponentially within three months of the reporting of the first few cases, the medical community worldwide has been trying to understand what makes coronavirus spread so fast. In this regard, NDTV spoke with experts to know the latest findings about how COVID-19 spreads.
Pyramid Transmission Of Infection Caused By Person-To-Person Contact
According to Dr. Nivedita Gupta from Indian Council of Medical Research, coronavirus has been found to spread mainly through person-to-person contact. She said,
The virus spreads easily between people who are in close contact with one another, say within about six feet. It is transmitted through tiny respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Thus infecting them with the disease.
She further said that understanding the transmission of the virus is key to its containment and prevention.
Dr Surya Kant, Professor and Head of Department of Respiratory Medicine, King George’s Medical University (KGMU) Lucknow said that once a person becomes a carrier of the virus, they can easily transmit the same to other people who then spread among some more and so on. Thus, causing a pyramid effect. He said,
If you see what happened in Itlay, USA and earlier in Japan and South Korea, it was initially, a person who had travelled to China or any other COVID-19 affected country and the people who came in contact with such a person were at the risk of being infected by the coronavirus but then as the chain of such contact increased, it started spreading in the community as well.
According to experts, India is currently in stage two of the transmission, where the virus infects people directly in contact with affected patients who returned from abroad. However, if the spread of the virus is not contained soon, the country may enter the state three called as community transmission in which the number of infected people will spike extremely making it impossible to trace the chain of transmission.
People With Mild Symptoms Can Spread Coronavirus
Dr. Meenakshi Jain, Associate Director, Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare, Patparganj and Noida said that people who are asymptomatic who exhibit no symptoms or have mild symptoms are major threats when it comes to spreading of the virus. She highlighted that while symptomatic people can be quarantined and provided with some medical care, asymptomatic infected persons are not even aware about their infection but can easily spread the virus. She asserted,
One big question about the new coronavirus is how many people transmit COVID-19 without showing symptoms at all, or showing so few symptoms they hardly realise they are sick. People experiencing symptoms such as a mild fever, cough and congestion are unlikely to visit a doctor. Older people or those with weak immunity, who are on immunity depressants or have health problems like diabetes are at serious health risk for being in contact with the infected persons.
Infected Air And Infected Surfaces Can Also Spread The Virus
Dr. Surya Kant said that doctors and health experts are so insistent that people cover coughs and sneezes because if let loose, those germs may also land on nearby surfaces: a countertop, table, light switch or doorknob, for example. He said,
Most of the infection is spread through contaminated hand contact and the negligence of the people. If a healthy person touches those infected surfaces, and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth, they can get infected.
He further said that members of the household of an infected person are at higher risk since they are exposed to multiple surfaces/air touched by the infected person.
Dr. Jain informs that according to a study, the virus can live in the air for several hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. She recommends washing hands frequently and cleaning surfaces with effective cleansers.
Experts say, the key lies in stopping, or at least slowing, the spread of coronavirus via a practice called “social distancing.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it involves physically staying about six feet from other people, as well as avoiding public transportation, including ride shares and other crowded places. They also strongly recommend practising frequent hand washing and covering the mouth and nose during coughing and sneezing to reduce the incidence of coronavirus infection significantly.