Coronavirus: Dubai Health Authority answers questions from the public

Health authorities explain that the virus cannot be caught from indoor pets or packages sent from China

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Doctors at Dubai Health Authority took questions from the public during a live session on social media to clear misconceptions about the new coronavirus.

The broadcast was organised under the Sehatek, or your health, initiative, a weekly online show in which doctors answer queries on Instagram and Periscope.

On Monday, Dr Sawsan Al Nahas and Dr Hind Al Awadhi from the authority’s Public Health Protection Department took questions from an online audience of 790 people.

How does the virus spread?

Different strains of coronavirus have been identified in humans and animals since the 1990s.

A person must be in direct contact with a patient to get infected

The new virus is believed to have originated in a large animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China, and infected humans.

“In January it was announced that the virus that caused pneumonia [in those people] was related to a new strain of corona and was then named novel coronavirus,” Dr Al Nahas said.

“The virus usually causes mild symptoms and can develop in new strains that can cause mild to severe symptoms.”

The virus spreads like any other respiratory disease, Dr Al Awadhi said.

“In the beginning, the virus was transmitted to humans from animals and now it can be transmitted between humans like any other respiratory disease.

“It transmits through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and through direct contact with the infected person,” she said.

Can I catch the virus from walking by an infected person?

“It’s not that easy to get infected,” Dr Al Awadhi said. She said a person would have to have direct contact with a patient, such as by living or working with them for several hours, to catch the virus.

Hygiene is the best way to protect yourself. Dr Al Awadhi said washing your hands thoroughly and frequently helps fight any kind of virus.

She suggested rubbing sanitiser between your hands for 20 to 30 seconds, ensuring every surface is cleaned, including between the fingers and around the fingertips and nails.

Can pets or outdoor animals give me coronavirus? 

“According to what I know, animals in the UAE are not infected with the virus,” Dr Al Awadhi said.

Dr Al Nahas asked people to cover their mouths while coughing to prevent germs spreading.

“You can either cough or sneeze in a tissue and immediately discard it in the rubbish bin. You can also sneeze in the crook of your arm, or inner elbow but never in your hand,” she said.

“And wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.”

Can an imported package from China carry the virus?

No, Dr Al Awadhi said. “The virus needs a living body to keep alive and it doesn’t live on surfaces for long, so it can’t transfer through goods and packages.”

Does the virus breed in a dry throat?

There have been several posts online that recommend drinking warm water to prevent coronavirus.

Drinking water is good for health but the doctors say there is no evidence that suggests it can be a safeguard against coronavirus.

“A dry throat is a sign of dehydration and cannot be connected to the virus,” Dr Al Nahas said.

The doctors advised people to visit health centres if they have returned from China and experience flu-like symptoms.

“In general, sick people should stay home and refrain from going out or visit crowded places. They should avoid shaking hands, kissing and nose-to-nose greeting,” Dr Al Nahas said.

How can people be treated if no cure exists yet?

“This is actually one of the questions we are constantly asked after the country announced the recovery of one patient,” Dr Al Nahas said.

Though there is no cure for the new coronavirus, the symptoms are very similar to those of flu and are treated with painkillers and medicines used to treat upper respiratory tract infections.

Dr Al Awadhi said the virus incubation period ranges from two to 14 days.

“The treatment period cannot be confirmed as it depends on the patient’s health situation and immune system,” she said.

“It is not a chronic disease as many think that it can stay in your body forever,” Dr Al Awadhi said.

Can garlic and herbs fight the virus?

“Garlic is good for health but there is no scientific study that proves it can treat the virus. It is the same for herbs,” Dr Al Awadhi said .