February 7, 2020
Chinese health authorities believe the virus can be transmitted before symptoms appear (1). Proof emerged yesterday that the coronavirus may be spread by asymptomatic carriers harboring the virus and “pollinating” the population. Singapore health officials announced that there were four new confirmed cases of coronavirus and none of them were linked to existing cases nor had they traveled to China (2). So how were they infected?
Last week, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) also reported similar findings from four patients in Germany infected with the coronavirus. It confirmed what public health officials feared the most; someone who has no symptoms from infection with the virus could still transmit it to others, making containment a lot harder (3).
Following an intervention from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German government agency responsible for disease control and prevention, that paper was retracted (4). The researchers were informed that the study was flawed as they did not account for an “infected” fifth person from Shanghai China who may have been the carrier and who had contact with these four patients. RKI wrote to the New England Journal to set the record straight and correct the paper, stating that they spoke to the Shanghai patient on the phone, and it turned out she did have symptoms while in Germany (4).
However, none of the original researchers were on that call. Furthermore, Dr. Michael Hoelscher, the lead scientist informed the media that he called RKI to inquire if the new information from that phone conversation, called for a correction and was told that was not the case. Since then RKI has not responded to a request for information, but an agency’s spokesperson did confirm that a letter about the error had been submitted to New England Journal of Medicine. RKI also informed the World Health Organization (WHO) and other European agencies about the retraction of that article (4). This lack of public transparency appears more like a cover-up!
In addition, this German group of researchers also detected a high viral load in the sputum of a recovering patient indicating the prolonged shedding of the coronavirus after recovery (3). This in itself implies another mode of transmission that no one in the scientific community has yet to address!
How will this impact you and your family? Since the virus is said to be transmitted by airborne-droplets, you should take extra care while outside the home. These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face. According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes (5). Some are reporting that the virus can survive from a few hours up to 3 days (6).
Here are a few tips: avoid touching open portals (eyes, mouth, nose) unless your hands are properly washed and disinfected, practice proper hand washing, and use a hand sanitizer (keep one in your pocket). Limit your excursions outside of the home, don’t use public washrooms or touch surfaces outside the home, wear a face mask when going out in public, wear protective eye-wear (goggles), especially around anyone who is sick. When returning home, remove your clothing and shower before having a meal, launder your clothes immediately, and leave shoes and outerwear in one confined area. Brushing your teeth has also been proven to prevent pneumonia, which the coronavirus can cause (7)(8). Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home on a regular basis, disinfect your cell phone (lysol or alcohol wipes) and use the “speaker” option. When grocery shopping, clean your grocery cart handle or wear disposable gloves, buy more non-perishable foods, and cook your vegetables. Until this outbreak is under control, opt to dine-in as much as you can!