Numerous Nigerians rushed to buy hand sanitizer and face masks at the wake of the announcement of the countries confirmed case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the weekend, as part of personal hygiene and sanitary measures to protect themselves from a deadly infection.
It is stylish to see people wearing facemask as a form of protection against the dreaded virus across the country. However, Prof. Dimie Ogoina, a Professor of Medicine and Consultant, Infectious Diseases at the Niger Delta University and Teaching Hospital (NDUTH), Bayelsa State, has advised that people should only use a face mask if they have respiratory symptoms.
Prof. Ogoina, who spoke in a recent chat room organised by the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) said, people don’t need face masks except if they have respiratory symptoms to protect disposal of droplets during coughing or sneezing.
He advised; “If you have someone who has been coughing or sneezing and you need to assist that person, ask the person to wear face mask if available and you should also wear a face mask if available.”
The Professor of Medicine who is also the current Chief Medical Director of the NDUTH said facemask was not a dress code, adding that it should be worn if you are in the same room or within six feet of someone suspected to have coronavirus.
He said a face mask should not be reused and that anyone wearing it should not touch the front of the face mask pull it down intermittently to breathe or talk or hang it under the mouth or jaw to pull it over the nose later.
The Consultant in infectious diseases said if any of these is done, then you are already exposed if your face mask was contaminated.
The Professor of Medicine, who is also President of the Nigeria Infectious Diseases Society (NIDS), said the use of face mask by the general public is not recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Prof. Ogoina also said it is difficult to describe original or fake face mask without visual inspection, adding that it is better to buy from established shops.
“If people continue to buy everything in stores at this rate, those treating cases will not find face masks to use!”
The consultant responded to some questions thus: Is it only alcoholic hand wash and sanitizers that can protect people from contracting the virus?
Prof. Ogoina explained that simple soap and water can kill the virus on our hands and on surfaces.
He said; “The hands are one of the most common sources of disease transmission. Let’s all protect our hands always.”
He also warned;” The disease is new, there is yet no evidence that garlic, ginger or hot lemon juice protects against coronavirus. Can regular intake of vitamin C, fruits and vegetables boost immunity against COVID- 9?
He also said; “There are a lot of things that could help our immune system, especially good rest, food and water in right quantities and quality. “Vitamin C, cod liver oil, fruits and vegetables have no specific benefit against COVID-19. However, fruits and vegetables are part of a nutritious diet.”
On what to do if someone around sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth, he said; “People must all be extra vigilant to avoid close contact with someone coughing or sneezing.
If that is not possible, first, keep a distance and ensure you protect your hands, nose, mouth and eyes from contact with droplets by whatever means possible.
“Face masks may be counter-productive not because they are not useful but because most people don’t know how to use them. Don’t forget to wash your hands when you have the chance,” he said.
Responding to if anyone who coughs or has running nose should report to the hospital for a confirmation test. Prof. Ogoina said first, avoid self-medication and ensure you seek medical attention when you have coughed and fever.
He counselled the public to always seek the advice of a doctor to review their history.
“If you have a travel history to places with COVID-19 or contact with someone suspected to have the disease, then you should immediately notify authorities via NCDC toll-free phone numbers.
“Meanwhile, it is important to note that catarrh and cough are common and most people who have these symptoms don’t have COVID-19.”
On providing assistance to a sick person to visit the hospital without getting infected, he said when assisting a person with cough and sneezing, it is important to protect your hands, nose, mouth and eyes as much as possible.
The Professor of Medicine said; “First ask for help if you are unsure. Then inform relevant authorities if you strongly suspect COVID-19. Use a face mask and the sick person should use it too.
If not available, ask the person to cover his/her mouth, cough into a flexed elbow or into a disposable tissue. Avoid touching your own mouth, nose and eyes. Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you have the chance.
“Please note that catarrh, fever and cough are common in our environment. Many people with these symptoms don’t have COVID-19.”
Ogoina said though routinely screens are being done on travellers in the major international airports by checking for fever and asking for symptoms such as cough, it is neither feasible nor evidence-based to test everyone for the virus even if they have no symptoms.
“The Ports Health Authority is expected to be extra vigilant. However, I observed a knowledge gap as most of them don’t use face mask appropriately,” he added.
He said the incubation period of COVID-19 is one to 15 days. Prof. Ogoina said the transmission of the virus causing COVID-19 could be by an animal to human or through human to human transmission. He said animal to the human transmission could be when undercooked or raw animals are eaten.
He said although the virus is thought to originate from bats, the exact animal host responsible for the disease is still unknown. He said human to the human transmission could be from respiratory droplets with close contact with someone infected especially when they cough and sneeze.
When these droplets touch the eyes, nose and mouth, then infection is possible. He also said airborne transmission occurs when infective agents are inhaled. COVID-19 is not transmitted by inhalation, except under certain procedures undertaken in the hospital settings.
On environment to human transmission, he said COVID-19 could be acquired if infected droplets from coughing and sneezing contaminate surfaces.
“This is what we call formites. When you touch these fomites and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, then you can become infected.”
Asked if it is safe to buy made in China products at the moment, the expert said there was no evidence that COVID-19 could be transmitted from imported goods.
“Besides, the virus cannot survive in inanimate objects for long especially when exposed to high temperatures common with ferry of some imported goods,” he said.