NATIONAL NEWS - With the number of Covid-19 cases on the rise in South Africa, health officials have appealed to South Africans to make use of the advice provided to them by authorities.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) identified Covid-19 as part of the Coronavirus family.
“In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS),” stated the WHO.
Who gets tested?
Dr Ahmad Haeri Mazanderani from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases told the media that before being tested, members of the public need to meet certain criteria to be considered a Person Under Investigation (PUI).
Criteria for a PUI include people with acute respiratory illness with sudden onset of at least one of the following: a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever of 38°C or higher.
Mazanderani said PUI criteria were likely to change regularly on account of the dynamic epidemiological and healthcare context.
He said if uncertain, contact the NICD hotline (0800 029 999) or a healthcare provider.
Patients who require hospital-level care due to symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid breathing, stabbing chest pain, decreased level of mental alertness and confusion, should:
• Notify the receiving medical facility before arrival.
• Avoid taking public transport to the facility – use private transport (preferably with windows rolled-down) or call an ambulance if required.
• The patient should wear a medical mask if available.
• Social distancing should be maintained where possible, on arrival at the facility.
He highlighted that only those who meet the PUI criteria would be tested.
Testing for Covid-19
Testing for the virus is routinely performed on a respiratory sample.
This can include a throat swab, a sputum specimen and, in cases of hospitalised patients, a specimen taken from the lower respiratory tract/ lungs.
“The most common specimen type is combined nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal ‘throat’ swabs that are tested together,” said Mazanderani
“The test is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay that detects the genetic material (nucleic acid) specific to the virus that causes Covid-19.”
“The turnaround time of the result is contingent on the time it takes for the specimen to arrive at the testing lab, as well as other laboratory/analytical variables like non-negative results that need to be repeated.”
Test results are usually available within 48 to 72 hours from arrival at the testing laboratory.
Mazanderani said there were some home sampling being performed by communicable disease control teams from the various provinces.
Community members are advised to verify the identities of any individuals before allowing them onto their properties.
Communities at risk?
Commenting on communities which could be at greater risk, Mazanderani highlighted the importance to differentiate between the risk of contracting the virus and risk of developing severe disease.
“Those who have a greater risk of contracting the virus include community members in overcrowded areas and those who find themselves with poor access to clean water and sanitation.
“Those who have a greater risk of developing severe disease include the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease.”
What can you do?
To minimise their risk of contracting Covid-19 community members must practice good hand/respiratory hygiene at all times, and observe social distancing.
“This is especially important for individuals who develop signs/symptoms of a flu-like illness which include fever, sore throat, coughing and shortness of breath,” said Mazanderani.
He explained that Covid-19 is a mild respiratory disease in the majority of cases (four out of five persons).
“Let’s be considerate by trying to prevent unnecessary spread, especially among our most vulnerable populations, and not to overburden the health system by seeking clinical assistance for mild respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy young persons.”
Mazanderani said currently it is difficult to determine the impact of Covid-19 on SA’s health systems in the future.
He pointed out that the situation is dynamic.
“As more evidence becomes available, and the epidemiological/healthcare context changes, recommendations for the management of Covid-19 are likely to be updated.”
Phone the NICD hotline on 0800 029 999 or your healthcare provider if you believe you have contracted Covid-19.