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Things You Did Not Know (And Should Know) About Viral Infections

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 23, 2020 8:31:32 PM / by Lim Jia Hui

Close to two decades ago, Singapore successfully combated the SARS virus with a nationwide campaign ‘Singapore’s OK’ which saw public places like hawker centers, washrooms and markets being inspected and sanitized regularly, and receiving a ‘Singapore’s OK’ sticker if they meet the criteria after inspection by the National Environment Agency (NEA). With the emergence of the Wuhan virus that can be spread via human-to-human transmission like SARS, what should you know about viral infections and what are the best practices we should adopt to avoid getting infected?

An infection comprises of five stages

You may be aware that one should minimize contact with others when he is experiencing symptoms, so as to avoid spreading the virus. However, do you know an infection is characterized by five stages, and it is manifesting in the body before the patient realizes it?

1. Incubation period

The first stage of infection is known as the incubation period when the virus has entered the body and starts to multiply. Although the amount of viral particles is insufficient to produce symptoms, some individuals, especially young children may be contagious during this period. 

2. Prodromal period

The stage following this is the prodromal period when the patient starts to experience mild symptoms that are not specific enough to indicate a particular infection. As the viral count is increasing, wear a facial mask or minimize contact with others to reduce the risks of transmission. 

The period of illness is the time when the patient is most contagious and experiences the most symptoms.

3. Period of illness

The period of illness is when the viral load in the body is highest, symptoms are most severe and the patient is most contagious. The strictest precautions should be taken during this period. Patients should stay home or be quarantined, depending on the transmissibility of the virus. In the case of Wuhan viral infection, the Ministry of Health has set up a multi-ministry task force, which involves isolating individuals with symptoms or travel history to China, getting parents and employees of preschools to declare travel plans over the Chinese New Year weekend, and reminding schools to conduct health checks on staff and students. 

4. Period of decline

Following the period of illness is the period of decline, when symptoms start to subside. As the patient is still carrying the virus, do not let your guard down; continue to safeguard yourself. As patients have weakened immune systems after fighting the infection, they are more susceptible to other diseases, so they should avoid traveling outdoors where pathogens are abundant. 

5. Period of convalescence

The infection ends with a period of convalescence when the patient has recovered. 

 

Receiving the right treatment for viral infections

Contrary to what some people believe, antibiotics cannot be used to treat all sorts of communicable diseases; they are used to combat bacterial infections only. Viral infections are usually treated with drugs that help to alleviate symptoms, and cure depends on our immune systems’ ability to kill the viruses. Some viral infections may be treated with antiviral drugs as well. 

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, not viral infections.

Taking the correct precautions against viral infections

1. Choosing the right protective mask

During the wave of Wuhan viral infection, Singaporeans known to adopt the “better be safe than sorry’ mindset have started purchasing bulks of N95 masks, causing some pharmacies and online stores to run out of stocks. Are N95 masks the most appropriate to use to protect yourself against the Wuhan virus? 

N95 masks are designed to have close facial fit to efficiently filter minute airborne particles; their filtration capabilities surpass that of face masks. Although they have stronger filtration capabilities, they are not the best suited for protection against the Wuhan virus, as N95 masks are meant to protect one from airborne particles, not respiratory secretions. Also, donning the mask would make breathing more difficult, so they are usually worn in healthcare and industrial settings. They are also not suitable for children or individuals with facial hair.

face masks are used to prevent large particle droplets from entering our nose and mouth.

In contrast, face masks are loose-fitting and are used to prevent large-particle droplets from entering our noses and mouths, and also lower the exposure of saliva and respiratory secretions to the environment. Those who are sick or wish to avoid falling ill should put on a face mask. A face mask should not be used more than once and should be replaced if it is soiled or damaged. 

2. Practicing proper handwashing technique

Since young, we are instilled with the habit of washing our hands before and after meals and using the washroom. However, have you been practicing the correct handwashing technique? There are eight steps to clean our hands, namely: palm to palm, between fingers, back of hands, base of thumbs, back of fingers, fingernails, wrists and finally rinse and wipe dry. The time spent on washing our hands matters too. According to Harvard Health Publishing, washing our hands with soap and water for 30 seconds reduces microbial count by 99.9%, compared to washing our hands for 15 seconds. Fun fact - germs are killed because of the mechanical procedure during handwashing.

there are eight steps to proper handwashing, and it is best to wash our hands for 30 seconds to kill most germs.

3. Be Careful of What You Touch

A good habit that accompanies proper handwashing technique is to take note of the surfaces that we come into contact with. Otherwise, we would need to constantly wash our hands to keep ourselves free from germs. As our eyes and nose are inlets for pathogen entry, it is best to avoid touching our eyes and nose unnecessarily. The same goes for cuts, wounds, and pimples on our skin. All open wounds should be disinfected and bandaged to prevent pathogens from entering our bloodstream. 

Refrain from sharing personal items like handkerchiefs, razors and nail clippers as they may carry pathogens left by the user. 

Poles and hand grips on public transport have some of the most microbes.

Public places are hot spots where infectious pathogens lurk, especially restrooms, restaurants and public transport. Restaurant menus, door handles and subway poles are touted as some of the most microbe-heavy surfaces. Since avoiding contact with these surfaces is not possible, bringing along an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to sanitize our hands helps in reducing the chances of contracting harmful viruses. 

Now that you understand viral transmission can occur in people who do not display symptoms, it’s time to adopt the precautions suggested above to avoid yourself from catching the virus! Prevention is better than cure, so share this article with your loved ones to benefit them too!

Other articles you may like:

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Four Health Benefits of a Clean Air-conditioner

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Topics: Wellness

Lim Jia Hui

Written by Lim Jia Hui

Jia Hui enjoys learning about the breakthroughs in human health and life sciences research, and turn them into bite-sized articles for the busy cosmopolitans. Social media is part of both her career and her hobby, as she loves watching Instagram stories of “loafly doggos”.

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