Dr. Mureithi gives an update on corona virus as death toll surges

Dr. Marianne Mureithi, from the Department of Medical Microbiology and KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research.



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It’s hard not to feel a sense of impending doom when reading about the coronavirus infection, known as COVID-19, sweeping the globe.

So what are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold (10-30%) 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- commonly originate from bats and seem to make their way to humans via some intermediate species.  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.

As of 8th March 2020 9.00pm, COViD-2019 has been reported across almost all continents with 109,571 infections, 3,799 Deaths with 60,693 people who have so far recovered.

How do you catch this virus?

COVID -19 spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and multiplies in the tissues that line the airways. Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Droplets travel only up to 6ft.

Another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or taps then subsequently touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days, such viruses can be killed by disinfectants such as alcohol or bleach – but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected.

Common signs and symptoms

Common signs of infection of the novel COVID-19 virus include, fever, respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, cough, congestion, fatigue shortness of breath.  In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

What are the worst outcomes?

According to WHO and the China CDC, It depends to some extent on how old you are and also if you have other underlying conditions such as diabetes, High blood pressure etc. COVID-19 barely causes symptoms in children, even babies, and in China is not known to have caused any deaths in under-tens.

Death rates are quite low between the ages of ten and 50, but then start climbing the older one gets esp. if they have underlying conditions, which worsen COVID-19. Majorities are recovering from the infection and that is quite reassuring and should ease panic!

How can we reduce the risks of being infected with the COVID- 19 within the University?

  • A small action with a great impact is frequent hand-washing simply with soap and water for at least 20 secs will reduce the risk. In between washes one can use hand sanitizers and observe simple had hygiene
  • Avoid frequent touch of your face, eyes, nostrils and mouth
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with either your elbow or a disposable tissue and wash your hands
  • Keep your distance  away from anyone who is obviously sick with a fever and or respiratory infection and keep your surrounding well ventilated
  • Keep yourself healthy to boost your immune system through a balanced diet and with fruits and vegetables, stay hydrated with moderate exercise and enough rest
  • In social gatherings such as in churches, the congregants may need to be innovative on how they interact with each other for example the holy sacrament may need to be placed on the hand instead of placing it in one’s mouth and the sign of peace can be done with a simple wave etc

 Should you wear a mask in public?

No not really. Studies show they do not really protect you from being infected. Some think it makes you touch your face less.

The only reason to wear a mask:

  1. If you are a healthcare provider
  2. If you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection
  3. If your occupation/vocation may lead to the exposure of the COVID-19 virus, e.g. Taxi drivers ferrying visitors from the airport, port and border officials
  4. Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing that you could transmit to others

NB: Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Also, if you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

How do I isolate myself?

Current guidelines says stay home for 14 days.

It means not going to work, lectures or school or attend any social gatherings– employers and school heads should be informed.

Do not go to public areas such as parks or shops and public transport or use taxis. Avoid having visitors, and ask friends, family or delivery services to get the shopping – and put it down outside, where you can pick it up. If you share a home with others, and they have not been advised to self-isolate, then stay in a separate, well-ventilated room.

Available treatment:

Scientists are currently racing to find a vaccine and treatment, as of now, no drug or vaccine has yet been approved to treat human coronaviruses. However, they are treating the symptoms – such as fever and respiratory problems. Antivirals and antibiotics are also used, mainly to keep secondary problems at bay. In the most serious cases patients are put on life-support equipment.

What can a University of Nairobi Member do if they suspect any of the above symptoms COViD-19?

UoN Staff and Students are encouraged to remain vigilant as the risk is still high & are advised to continue taking the precautionary measures described above. The Kenyan Government has also issued a travel advisory to all to avoid non-essential travel to high risk countries for conferences/meetings or events where more than 15 people would be gathering.

If you have visited Hubei province in China in the past 14 days, or Iran, northern Italy, the Daegu and Cheongdo areas of South Korea since February 19 or any areas that may have reported cases such as the Washington State in the USA, You may well be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

For any inquiries related to COViD-19 or if you have a cough, high temperature or are suffering shortness of breath and have been to parts that have reported cases in the past 14 days, please call the Ministry of Health on the following Hotlines: 0800721316, 0732353535, 0729471414

It is very IMPORTANT to call first (the numbers above), before visiting any health facility to minimize transmission to others who maybe more vulnerable.

What is the University doing about COViD-19?

The University is acting on advice from several authoritative sources including the Government of Kenya, Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and the Africa CDC.

In addition, the university is tapping on its top leading research scientists, virologists, medics and other experts for latest advice and development in dealing with COViD-19.


Article written by Dr. Marianne Mureithi, from the Department of Medical Microbiology and KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research.