What is Coronavirus and how can it be tackled?


Coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. More than 1000 people have died since the outbreak.

Dr. Marianne Mureithi, from the Department of Medical Microbiology and KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research tells us about the outbreak of Coronavirus and measures that should be taken to prevent it from spreading.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).  Most of these coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  The World Health Organization has given an official name for the disease caused by the new (novel) coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019 as  Covid-2019.  The Costands for corona, the VI for virus and the D for disease, and 19 standing for 2019, the year the first cases were seen. As of 12th February 2020, Covid-2019 has been reported in over 25 countries across 4 continents and >40,000 cases have been confirmed, with the death toll from the virus being over 1000.

What are the signs and symptoms of Coronavirus?

Common signs of infection of the novel Covid-19 virus include, respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

As of 12th Feb 2020, Africa is still free of Covid-2019 as reported by the Africa Centres for Disease Control & prevention (Africa CDC) which urges African countries to enhance surveillance, emergency response, and prevention of infectious diseases.

How is Covid-19 tested?

Testing for a novel/new pathogen is not as simple the coronavirus test must identify actual nucleic acid – single-strand RNA, to be specific.  Testing for this kind of genetic material requires genetical probes. Both public- and private-run laboratories and even the University of Nairobi labs such as in KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) and UNITID have the equipment to run molecular assays – used to analyse genetic material – but for now what is missing are the key probes and reagents.  However, it should be noted that 29 African countries will be supplied with “the reagent needed to test samples for the virus”, with Kenya among the 13 prioritised countries as reported WHO country representative for Kenya and the Ministry of Health, Kenya. In addition, the reagents for the diagnosis of Covid-2019 Virus are now available at KAVI-ICR UoN, as recently reported by the Director, KAVI-ICR and now UoN is in a position to play a critical role in diagnosis and surveillance of Covid-2019 along with other partners in the country.

How can we reduce the risks of being infected within the University?

The World Health Organization has the following advice, which applies to many other respiratory diseases too.

• Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.

• Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.

• Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.

• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).

• Within health care facilities, enhance standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments.

Unfortunately, no drug or vaccine has yet been approved to treat human coronaviruses.

What is the University doing about Covid-19?

The University is acting on advice from sources including the Government of Kenya, Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and the Africa CDC. In addition, the university has the top leading research scientists, virologists, medics and other medical experts in the Country who the University can tap to for latest advice and development in dealing with Covid-19.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Ministry of Health, AFRICA Centres for Disease Control & prevention (AFRICA CDC)