Dr Lauren Swartz, Biotechnologist, Woodlands
While everyone is waiting for a lifesaving cure or vaccine, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and of course physical distancing is the best possible way to prevent the virus from spreading.
Viruses have a shell-like structure that is made up of a “fatty” layer. This fatty layer is easily dissolved by soap, any type of soap. Once the fatty layer is dissolved, the virus is destroyed. Alternatives, such as alcohol-based hand sanitisers, disinfectant wipes and gels are useful in settings away from home, but not as effective as using soap.
The Western Cape Department of Health advises that medical and N95 masks not be used by the general public. Especially, since it’s been reported that a global shortage of these masks already exists and are of priority for front-line health workers, caring for Covid-19 infected persons.
Most sensibly, the public should only use masks if they are coughing and sneezing.
However, the Western Cape Department of Health has developed a policy guideline that indicates a wider use of masks, as the epidemic unfolds, even for those individuals who are not ill.
As a result, the department puts forth a cloth mask as an alternative for public use. However, it is important to note, from the offset, that these masks only reduce the risk of transmission.
Cloth masks do not prevent transmission. Another important factor to remember, is that the use of masks must be accompanied by frequent hand cleaning with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub; and other good hygiene practices recommended to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as social distancing, not touching your face, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or tissue and self-isolating if you’re ill. Cloth masks must be washed with soapy water daily and ironed when dry.
To date, there are no vaccines and no proven cures for Covid-19. The development of new vaccines take time, generally, around 12 to 18 months. Additionally, any potential vaccines must undergo thorough tests, and must be confirmed as safe for human use after meeting all the criteria, for four phases of clinical trials, before they can routinely be used in humans. It is likely that treatment options may become available for Covid-19 sooner than a vaccine, using existing and approved pharmaceutical drugs.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for approving safe and effective pharmaceutical drugs for public use, issued an emergency authorisation, on March 31, for the use of anti-malaria drugs (hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine) in hospitals, to treat Covid-19, in the USA.
It is important to note,that several studies are still under way and these drugs have not yet been proven as a treatment option for Covid-19.
In the coming months, South Africa will also be participating in a global trial, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to determine if four possible pharmaceutical drugs could treat Covid-19.
Let’s all do our part to stay safe. Fight the uncertainty with education.