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Posted on 18 March 2020.

The COVID-19 virus is spreading globally and nationally. South Africa has 116 confirmed cases as of today, 14 of which have now been confirmed as local transmissions. This is the time to act.

The South African government has stepped up and has called for travel restrictions and reducing contact with others. In this article, I unpack the COVID-19 virus, give you practical tips to follow, including a video on how to wash your hands. Lastly, I talk about social distancing – how it works and what stress-minimizing activities you can do in the comfort of home.

1. What are Coronaviruses and COVID-19?

Coronavirus is a family of flu viruses. We have common coronaviruses that are like the common cold or flu virus that is normally circulating. We also have other coronaviruses that come from animals. These viruses are a little more dangerous. E.g SARS, and now, COVID-19 (WHO, 2020)

2. How is COVID-19 spread?

The COVID-19 virus is spread exactly like the common cold or flu: through droplets of the virus that spread from person to person.

Ways that it could be transmitted:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • speaking
  • touching your face or mouth after touching a surface with an infected droplet

Remember, the virus can not travel far, so you have to be quite close to a person with the disease.

3. How can we protect ourselves from COVID-19?

  • wash your hands and surfaces regularly – use an alcohol-based sanitizer. See the video below for handwashing steps.
  • Isolate yourself if there is a risk that you may have contracted it
  • if you have the common cold symptoms: stay at home, rest and wear a mask
  • if you see someone with the common cold symptoms, stay away

Practical Steps to Avoid Covid-19: Handwashing – The 6 Steps

The practical steps to washing your hands – medical school style!
Maria Luthuli, from KwaMashu Community Health Centre, does a handwashing class for the kids in her community

4. What ages are affected by the virus?

What the current research is showing us is that the median age of infected people is around 50 years.

Usually, it affects people from the age of 40 and up (WHO, 2020). People are more susceptible to the disease if they have other underlying conditions, such as hypertension, cancer, HIV or other respiratory conditions.

On the contrary, children and pregnant women are actually less affected by the COVID-19 virus (WHO, 2020). If they do get it, their symptoms are mild. This is very different from our common flu.

5. Autoimmune disease – what should I be aware of?

If you have an autoimmune disease, like ankylosing spondylitis, and are on biologic therapy such as an anti-TNF (Enbrel, Humira, etc) or anti IL 17A then we know your immune system could be a bit lower than others in the population (NASS, 2020). This can mean your symptoms may be a bit worse if you pick up an infection or virus.

Current information and statistics from WHO and countries experiencing outbreaks suggest that the risk for patients on immunosuppressive drugs does not appear to be higher than the usual risk associated with catching viral infections such as influenza. The National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society, recommends that you should not stop taking your biologics (NASS, 2020). Continue as normal. If you start to experience any flu-like symptoms (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath), hold off on your next injection until you’ve fully recovered.

If you do decide to see a healthcare professional, let them know you have your specific autoimmune disease and make sure you know the name of the medication you’re on.

6. Acting in your, and your community’s best interest

What do we know?

We know it’s a virus like the common flu virus, so take exactly the same precautions, but more. This is not like the common flu, because it’s been classified as a pandemic and national medical disaster. We know we can flatten the curve by practicing social distancing.

Practice Social Distancing

Social distancing is an act of solidarity. It reduces close contact between people to slow the spread of infections or diseases. Social distancing measures include liming large groups of people coming together and postponing events.

Traffic Light Table for social distancing

Use this social distancing table as a guideline over the next few days. Inspired by Leah McGrath

Take the Time to Destress

In stressful times like these, it’s important to take the time to destress. Make sure you’re distracting yourself for a few hours a day. Helpful distractions include a variety of activities: journal, cooking at home, dive in meditation (here’s a previous blog post I’ve written to get yourself started) starting a new project. Here are a few that are particularly up-to-date and helpful:

Work out from home

Keeping up your fitness and engaging in daily movement benefits us in more ways than one. Your body thrives on daily movement and it certainly helps to keep sniffles at bay. Working out from home allows you to spread your wings at home.

The fitness world has stepped up to the plate and has made classes available, free and online. This includes five exercise apps from Downdog – Down Dog, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7 Minute Workout. You can download them all here.

Listen to your favourite song

Distract yourself by immersing yourself in your favourite song.

My pick? Local Artist, Mikhaela Kruger, has released her official video for her new single, ‘Body’ today. It’s You can find it, here. It’s lose-yourself-in-the-moment quality, ideal for right now.

Boost your immune system with a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do in times of stress and overwhelm. It allows your body to rest, recharge and process.

If you’d like to know more about how to optimize your sleep, take a look at this post. It’s called Seven Steps for Significant Sleep and dives into easy ways you can improve your sleep. 

7. We can make a difference

The choices you make will change the history of this pandemic. Lead by example to keep our country healthy.