Experts warn of local spread of coronavirus

Updated March 15, 2020

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Infectious diseases expert Dr Bushra Jamil of Aga Khan University Hospital speaks at a press conference organised at the press club on Saturday.—White Star
Infectious diseases expert Dr Bushra Jamil of Aga Khan University Hospital speaks at a press conference organised at the press club on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: At a press conference held on Saturday, health experts warned that the highly infective coronavirus could spread locally very fast as has happened in Italy and Iran, if citizens didn’t show responsible behaviour and didn’t support government efforts — which they described as ‘appropriate’.

All Pakistanis must come together as a nation as the ongoing coronavirus situation required us all to be mindful in dealing with this infection, they said.

The event was organised by the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan (MMIDSP) at the press club.

“Though all patients testing positive for the virus have had a travel history to a high-risk country so far, sooner or later we would see local spread of the virus [as has happened in other countries], which could have an economic and social fallout,” warned Dr Aisha Ilyas of the National Medical Centre.

Virus spread can be contained with proper public response

Local transmission of the virus meant that patients testing positive have no travel history or known contact with a confirmed case, she explained, adding the virus spread could only be contained through an effective government-public response.

Social distancing

“What’s important to limit such an emergency situation is to ensure that there are facilities for early diagnosis and isolating family and contacts of patients testing positive,” she said, while referring to a recent case of a patient who had returned from Islamabad and apparently had no contact with a confirmed case.

According to experts, most viral infections are self-limiting and same is the case with coronavirus which shows up with symptoms such as body aches, fever, cough and difficulty in breathing and has a fatality rate of between 2 per cent and 3.5pc.

“Eighty per cent of the patients recover without any medical assistance and only 10 per cent need hospitalisation. The most vulnerable are the elderly over 60 years of age and those with underlying health problems,” said Dr Fivzia Harekar of the Indus Hospital, adding that a coronavirus test involved a nasal swab from deep in a patient’s nasal cavity to collect cells from the back of the nose.

Emphasising the need for prevention, experts described ‘social distancing and self-quarantine’ as the most effective steps for a large majority of people who may experience mild symptoms.

“The infection can be contained by following a rigorous regimen of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquettes and cleanliness measures including disinfection,” said Dr Samreen Sarfraz of the Indus Hospital, urging people to avoid crowded places and those already sick should stay at home till recovery and wear disposable face mask when interacting with others.

Responding to a question about the ill-equipped quarantine in the border area of Taftan, Dr Shobha Luxmi of Dow University of Health Sciences said the government had shifted all pilgrims staying in the Taftan facility to a 1,000-room building in Sukkur to properly deal with the situation.

The government, she said, was engaged in staff training and setting up more quarantine and isolation ward facilities in the province.

“We believe that so far the government response has been appropriate. It is engaged with all stakeholders and subject experts for consultation,” said Dr Bushra Jamil of Aga Khan University Hospital, also the MMIDSP president.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020