Understanding silent spread: Coronavirus disease is not always obvious

And yet there are situations where a disease carrier shows no symptoms at all and this is where it gets tricky. These rare instances where a person has a disease but shows no sign or symptom of infection are called asymptomatic cases.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of conversation surrounding the rapid spread of the new Coronavirus Disease, popularly called COVID-19.

A sense of surprise often transitioning into disbelief seems to be the common reaction to the astronomical rise in the number of COVID19 cases on a daily basis.

Since the beginning of time, it has been common practice to avoid people who habour a particular disease, as a preventative measure to avoid contracting or spreading the said communicable disease.

It is often simple for one to tell who has a disease.

There is usually an obvious sign or symptom evident in a carrier.

One may not need to be a medical expert to tell if another is infected.

A mere physical assessment of a visibly ill patient is enough to raise a red flag.

And yet there are situations where a disease carrier shows no symptoms at all and this is where it gets tricky.

These rare instances where a person has a disease but shows no sign or symptom of infection are called asymptomatic cases.

Such a person is referred to as an asymptomatic carrier, and the subsequent passage of the disease to other unsuspecting persons is known as asymptomatic transmission.

COVID-19 seems to thrive in this regard, proving to be especially difficult to contain because in mildly symptomatic cases where carriers display symptoms that look like the common cold, and pre-symptomatic cases where the virus is still in its “incubation” stage, it has been largely reported to still maintain the same level of spread as with asymptomatic cases where there are no symptoms at all.

“Corona no dey show for face” quite clearly encapsulates an asymptomatic case.

The original phrase has been used for decades to spread awareness about the true potency of HIV, another virus that we have had to deal with, but even that needs some form of human contact to be passed on to the next person.

COVID-19 has defied these odds and is peculiar in that one can potentially become infected by minimal contact with someone in the streets who already has it.

How then can we protect ourselves from a virus that seems to be doing all it can to get to us undetected?

This is where the measures that have been ringing out like that one song in our head that refuses to go away, come to play.

International health bodies along with the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have relentlessly issued advisories that include washing of hands with water and soap as frequently as possible to kill off any traces of the virus one might have unknowingly come in contact with, use of hand sanitizers as they are chemically equipped to achieve similar, and cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces with disinfectant.

The need for physical distancing and use of face masks in public spaces cannot be overemphasized.

The point is to treat everyone as a potential carrier of COVID-19, because fact remains that at a glance, there is truly no way of knowing.

The attempt at tracing, identifying and containing an asymptomatic case before it becomes any more active in the further spread of the virus can be likened to a fight against an invisible enemy.

A battle intensified by reports showing that a staggering 8 out of 10 people with COVID-19 may show no symptom at all. It is a tough battle undoubtably, albeit one that is not impossible to win.

To win this battle, we must continue to work together to abide by the guidelines of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, so that these silent spreaders of COVID-19 do not continue to drive this disease in Nigeria.

  • So, stay at home if you can, and only leave because it is essential.
  • If you must leave your home, please wear a face mask and wear it properly.
  • Do not share face masks.
  • Try to maintain some physical distance to others.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water, and where this is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue, and discard the tissue immediately into a covered bin.

When we abide by these guidelines, we will be able to overcome this invisible enemy and even the silent spreaders will be stopped from spreading the disease.

*Femi Ayemi, public health communications at Corona Management Systems

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