FACT SHEET and Q&A: A Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Dr. H. Christian Hong

President of New Tokyo Medical College and a former Captain, U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD)

Chief Business Officer, EyeGene Inc.

Recently, we witnessed a cluster of pneumonia cases caused by a novel coronavirus-now named as COVID-19. This unusual viral infection imposed a global burden on various industries including tourism industry, air lines, retail businesses, hospitality industry etc. The spread of this viral infection is now reported in about 60 nations. For our island, the travel restriction has been effective since January. According to United Airlines “Anyone who’s traveled to mainland China since January 6, 2020 will not be allowed to enter the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Anyone who has been in a country with a confirmed case of the coronavirus (other than China) must stop in Guam, Hawaii or another location free from the virus for 14 days before entering the FSM.” (United Home Page, 2020)

Coronavirus has been a common causative agent for the common cold. A novel virus infection that we are witnessing today is basically due to “sub-types” of those common coronaviruses.  In detail, coronaviruses are enveloped non-segmented positive-sense RNA viruses belonging to the family Coronaviridae and it is widely distributed in humans and other mammals (Richman DD, 2016).

We hope this article will inform the Micronesian community of the emergence of this novel coronaviruses and its features in simple Q & A format.

  1. What is the route of infection? It is yet to be discovered further but scientists believe that the “droplets” from infected person’s coughing or sneezing can infect (pass through) other people.
  1. Is person-to-person transmission possible? The person-to-person transmission in family homes or hospital, and intercity spread of this novel coronavirus are possible (Chan, J. F-W., 2020)
  1. What are the clinical signs and symptoms? In the US study, subjective fever or measured temperature over 100.4 F (38 C) and cough or shortness of breath are the major signs and symptoms (Bajema, KL 2020)
  1. Can I get infected via my eyes or simple contact with skin? Coronavirus may survive longer in the air than influenza viruses. Contaminated hands with virus droplets may infect a person through the eyes and mouth. However skin is a good barrier against the virus; it is less likely that coronavirus can penetrate the skin.
  1. What is mortality rate (i.e., death rate) of COVID-19 as compared with other corona viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-Cov) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-Cov)? The mortality rate from COVID-19 is estimated approximately 2.5% (Ji, Y. 2020). Meanwhile, worldwide fatality rate from SARS-Cov was 11% (range 7% to 27%) (Chan, KS, 2020). As we experienced, the mortality rate from MERS-Covid was much higher than that of SARS-Cov. The overall mortality rate of MERS-Cov was 29.8% (Ahmed, AE. 2017)
  1. How does the new Coronaviruses compared with flu (influenza viruses)? Between 1918-1919, the great influenza pandemic caused over one quarter of the US population infected and 675,000 Americans died (Billings, M, 2003). According to CDC estimation from 1 OCT 2019 through 22 FEB 2020, the flu has already caused an estimated 32-45 million illnesses, 14-21 million hospitalizations and 18,000-46,000 deaths (CDC 2020). Meantime the mortality rate from COVID-19 is about 2.5% while the mortality rate from influenza in the US is estimated as 0.02% (CDC, NCHS, 2017). The mortality rate for COVID-19 is higher than that of influenza.
  1. Beside the major sign and symptoms, what are other minor signs and symptoms? In addition to the major sign and symptom (i.e., fever, cough, and shortness of breath), the following signs and symptoms were reported (Huang, C., 2020): Myalgia (muscle pain) or fatigue; sputum production; headaches; and hemoptysis (coughing up of blood).
  1. Is facial mask effective to protect myself from the virus? There is no definitive cure (except for the experimental anti-HIV drug therapies) for COVID-19 at this time. A disposable facial mask may be the best option for the protection against the virus. In addition, paying attention to personal hygiene and hand sanitization is highly recommended.
  1. Is vaccine available? There is no vaccine available for protection against COVID-19
  1. Is gathering at schools, churches, restaurants dangerous? From lessons from other infected countries with COVID-19, gathering at certain places can be risky. However, there is no reported COVID-19 case in Pohnpei. Therefore, restriction on daily activities, attending schools, going to other public places and community meetings is not necessary at this point.

In conclusion, the risk of becoming infected with this new coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pohnpei is low. We would like to recommend the general public to increase the level of personal hygiene and hand sanitization (i.e., wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible) at all times. As we remember old quote from Sun Tzu“know yourself, know your enemy, and you shall win a hundred battles without loss,” we may be able to apply this quote to coronaviruses. Please remember that the best cure for COVID-19 is the prevention.