In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysia is facing numerous issues that may cripple its socio-economic growth if not handled properly. Therefore, ASM has conducted a Facebook Live with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) titled Penyesuaian Terhadap Cabaran COVID-19 (Adapting to Challenges of COVID-19).
The Facebook Live Session featured MOSTI Minister YB Khairy Jamaluddin as the moderator. Three ASM Fellows were invited to share their expert knowledge and opinions: Professor Datuk Dr Awg Bulgiba Awg Mahmud FASc, Professor Dr Mahendhiran Nair FASc and Professor Dr Shamala Devi K.C. Sekaran FASc.
Note to Readers: COVID-19 is the term given to the disease, while SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus. (Source)
Following a brief introduction by YB Khairy, Professor Dr Shamala Devi K.C. Sekaran FASc, an expert on immunology and virology commenced her presentation. Professor Shamala started by providing an introduction on how the name “coronavirus” came to be. The word comes from the Latin word corona, meaning garland or crown, which the virus resembles. The virus has a sticky lipid outer cover that enables it to cling on surfaces for a certain period of time. It is transmitted between humans via droplets either by talking, coughing, or sneezing. When it is transmitted, its sticky outer lipid layer enables it to cling on surfaces for a period of time.
Source: New Scientist
Professor Shamala went on to state that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease) is a novel virus; this means that this is the first time we are exposed to it. Despite the similar name, SARS-CoV-2 is not the same as the one identified during the SARS outbreak, which is named SARS-CoV-1. Professor Shamala has highlighted that there are reports stating that the virus can stay up to 30 days in the human body. Therefore, quarantine and self-isolation is important to limit transmission.
Professor Shamala highlighted the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test as a gold standard in COVID-19 testing. This test is a nuclear-derived method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material from any pathogen, including a virus such as SARS-CoV-2. Originally, the method used radioactive isotope markers to detect targeted genetic materials, but subsequent refining has led to the replacement of the isotopic labelling with special markers, most frequently fluorescent dyes. There are may other test kits to detect infection, but proper validation by medical professional is always required.
Continuing on the topic of effective testing, Professor Shamala noted that one negative test is not enough; she recommends returning for another test in five to seven days to ensure it is a true negative. ASM has produced a Fact Sheet featuring Professor Shamala and Professor Datuk Dr Asma Ismail FASc on the importance of obtaining a true negative through double testing.
According to Professor Shamala, everyone is equally susceptible to COVID-19 because it is a new virus; no one has developed natural immunity to it yet. What differs is the ability to recover from it. A younger person may stand a better chance of recovering from COVID-19, unless they have a pre-existing health condition such as diabetes or heart disease. In that case, they may also be stricken with a more severe case of COVID-19.
When asked whether all infected patients require a ventilator if they are admitted for COVID-19, Professor Shamala stated that only a small portion of the patients will experience the critical stage of COVID-19 that necessitates a ventilator; most will only experience a mild form of the infection.
YB Khairy inquired on the possible cause of high death rate in Italy. Professor Shamala explained that Italy is an ageing population and when viewed in detail, most of the deceased patients in Italy are in the older demographic.
Next, YB Khairy engaged Professor Datuk Dr Awg Bulgiba Awg Mahmud FASc, an expert on clinical epidemiology, medical statistics, and health informatics. Professor Awg Bulgiba started off with a quick introduction to who an epidemiologist is. An epidemiologist not only counts the number of patients stricken with a disease, but also studies the distribution of a disease (e.g. demographic, location, and other factors) as well as finding the source or cause of the disease. They also strive to reduce the disease’s effects on the human population.
When asked about supposed “cures” for COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and a traditional remedy using daun semambu (neem), Professors Awg Bulgiba and Shamala both agree that clinical trials are the way to go in determining the actual efficacy of these supposed “cures”. Clinical trials are standardised testing methods that determine whether the components are instrumental in curing COVID-19. Without proper testing, it cannot be ascertained that these “cures” worked against the virus. Maybe a strong immune system or a healthy diet were the actual factors for recovery from COVID-19.
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