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How does COVID-19 spread? |25 March 2020

How does COVID-19 spread?

The new coronavirus has spread worldwide including Seychelles. We have, at the time of writing, 7 confirmed cases (Photo Credit: The Creative Studio – Seychelles)

The world is experiencing an unprecedented pandemic of a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This is the pathogen (disease-causing germ) that causes the COVID-19 infectious disease that is currently affecting hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and has recently reached our islands.

The department of health is working tirelessly to help contain the spread here in Seychelles. But how does the virus spread? What can we do to help and to prevent this?


Droplets landing in our mouths/noses

The virus spreads through droplets mainly when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes; these droplets can land in the mouth or noses of people who are nearby (usually about 1-2 metres away) but are too heavy to travel further in the air.


Droplets on nearby surfaces

The virus can also spread when these droplets land on clothing and nearby surfaces, or if the infected person coughs or sneezes into his/her own hands and then proceeds to touch other surfaces such as door knobs, and then a non-infected person touches these same surfaces containing the virus and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes.

Another way the virus can spread is when you use or share items that go into your eyes, nose and mouth such as cutlery, cups, straws and water bottles.

When infected people speak, cough or sneeze, droplets can travel 1 metre away

and land in our mouths / noses and on nearby surfaces

The virus will then enter the body through the mucus membrane (the wet parts) of the eyes, nose and mouth where they end up colonising the throat and lungs.

This is why the most effective way to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus is through frequent and proper hand washing with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser when there is no access to soap and water (make sure the sanitiser is at least 60% alcohol). This will eliminate the virus if it is on your hands.

It is also equally important to frequently disinfect regularly touched surfaces daily to help avoid the spread of the virus.

Wash hands with soap & water; use alcohol-based sanitizers  & frequently disinfect regularly-touched surfaces


Faecal matter

There is also evidence that the virus can shed in faecal matter for much longer – this is from a study published in Nature Medicine where scientists in China found the virus in faeces of children who “persistently tested positive on rectal swabs even after nasopharyngeal testing (a sample from the back of the nose and throat) was negative, raising the possibility of faecal–oral transmission”.

Someone who’s recovered from the disease may continue to spread the virus

if they don’t wash their hands properly after visiting the toilet

How long can the new coronavirus survive outside the human body? How long will viable viruses remain in the air? How long will they survive and potentially infect others on surfaces such as cardboard boxes, plastics and metal?

According to a study conducted in the United States where scientists investigated the aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2, they found that the virus “remained viable in aerosols throughout the duration of our experiment (3 hours)” and “was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces”.

The virus stays around long enough on surfaces to spread from person to person

One frequently used object that can harbour pathogens such as the coronavirus is our mobile/smartphones.

Disinfect mobile phones frequently

It is worth noting that one untested surface is hair; most of us have it and it can possibly become contaminated as well. However, health experts in the US say that it is less likely to be an issue as hair naturally has oils that protect the hair strands, it has antimicrobial properties and these limit how well germs can bind to hair.

To be safe though, they recommend washing your hair regularly, avoid styling your hair in such a way that it will literally fall into your face, particularly your eyes and also avoid running your hands through your hair. The most risky way the virus will spread when it comes to hair is by going to the barber or hair salons where a hairstylist would be in much closer contact to you – don’t forget social distancing.

To be safe, wash hair regularly; avoid styling that causes hair to fall onto the face;

avoid running hands through hair

It is worth noting that COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning about how it spreads. Having said that, there are a number of ways it cannot spread; for instance, it cannot be spread from mosquitoes or from cats and dogs.

Although the virus did jump from a spill-over event from its host animals (the natural reservoir for coronaviruses) to humans, there has been no information or evidence that the virus can be spread through our pets or through mosquito bites. However, after playing with your pets; you may catch other germs such as the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli), so, wash your hands!


References: World Health Organisation (WHO); Centre For Disease Control (CDC); BBC Future; The State of Queensland (Queensland Health); Nature Medicine; The New England Journal of Medicine, Today


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