Information about the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19)

What can we do during the current epidemic? How can we avoid getting infected?

  1. Buy drinking water, canned and deep-frozen products as well as non-perishable food for at least 90-120 days.
  2. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Make sure you do not do it only in the usual cases: when returning home, before meals, after using the toilet, etc.! It is advisable to wash hands on a regular basis before using the toilet, before / after visiting public spaces, but also to do it periodically (every half an hour), without connecting it to certain activities.

    Attention: Water taps are not available everywhere and you will probably not find one on subways, trams, in stops or stations, either. It`s good to carry some spray on you. Spray the liquid regularly on your hands, rub them, wipe them with a paper towel, and then throw it away by all means! Frequent hand washing dries the skin, so do not forget to hydrate the regularly cleansed skin surface.
  3. Avoid contact with eyes, nose and mouth if your hands are not clean! Wear in public spaces special glasses that protect your eyes against the particles filtered in the air.
  4. It is absolutely necessary to respect the usual etiquette of sneezing - sneeze or cough in a handkerchief. Avoid the crowds and physical contact with other people: this is not the appropriate time to shake hands or give a kiss!
  5. In the event of an outbreak and even before, it is safe to use a special, multilayered air filter face mask! Of course, if you can still purchase one somewhere!
  6. Disinfect frequently the surfaces with which a large number of people come in contact. (For example, the desk where you receive clients at your workplace or the plexiglass wall at the cashier’s desk.) Obtain disinfectant products as soon as possible, because soon there might be a shortage of these products, too.
  7. In the event of an outbreak and even before don’t attend public events and avoid public transport if possible. We cannot know who the infected people are, as long as they are not aware about being infected, either.
  8. Avoid sick people’s company!
  9. Stay at home, if you notice the slightest signs of the disease, respect your fellows!
  10. If you have a fever, cough or breathing difficulties, contact your doctor immediately and keep to the protocol made public the respective area.
  11. Avoid raw food or consumption of animal organs as well as the markets where there are living animals! Avoid animal excrements, pay close attention to your dog and to what it brings into your home or into your immediate environment! Check the cleanness of your shoes when stepping into your home!
  12. Avoid the countries in which the serious spread of the virus has been reported and also the people who have been travelling abroad, recently!

How dangerous is the COVID-19 epidemic?

The basic characteristics of the epidemic are indicative of some serious potential threat. One of the problems is its long latency period. The virus attacks vital organs (primarily the lungs) which may cause potentially lethal diseases. Anybody can carry around the virus during an extremely long – up to over two weeks – incubation period without even noticing it or ever experiencing any symptoms. Some carry the virus, and pass it on, without falling ill or producing symptoms so mild that they do not think much of it or never suspect the corona virus.

The assertion that the mortality statistics are similar to those of influenza is simply not true. The infection rate of COVID-19 appears to be way over two, which is twice as high as that of flu. Infection rate is a key metric: it shows the number of individuals to whom one infected person passes on the virus in a non-immune community without any special actions or prevention measures in place. Mortality rate for the COVID-19, on the other hand, is 25 times that of influenza: while the latter kills 1 in every 1000 infected, COVID-19 causes the death of 25 of every 1000 infected.

Which one should we be more afraid, flu or the coronavirus?

From an epidemiological aspect coronavirus is a major challenge for health professionals. Precautions taken so far could merely slow down the spreading of the virus, and still, to date, it has affected more people than many other epidemics of the recent decades. About 20% of those infected with the virus need serious medical assistance, some even require life-saving intervention. In other words, the relatively high – 3-6% – mortality rate would even be higher without the concerted efforts being made to keep it down. This situation can only be maintained as long as the given country’s health care sector has capacities to deal with it. And the health sector has been barely coping in most countries even without the new epidemic.

This is why we all have to use our best efforts to avoid contributing to the spreading of the disease: everyone should wash their hands regularly, those who have already contracted it should wear face masks, avoid crowded places and stay at home, as much as possible.

It is widely held that only elderly and/or weaker people are really endangered. Is this true?

It is always individuals whose immune systems have grown weaker or not fully developed yet, along with those down with diseases or otherwise in difficult condition, that are most exposed. But this is mere statistics, which indicate how severe effects different groups of populations can expect. Nobody is safe; some may, at best, face lower chances of getting into trouble. Plotted in a matrix of mortality/serious disease and age, epidemics tend to produce U-shaped curves, indicting the young and the old are in more danger; however, this is more of a generalisation, and actual data depict a much more varied landscape. There have been cases in history where hyper-active immune systems caused millions of deaths, where the above-mentioned graph had a W-shape, meaning he population groups with immune systems considered to be the strongest of all suffered the greatest losses. Consequently, a joint focus on prevention is what should best serve the interests of the entire population.

What can one do to boost their immune system?

The human immune system can do wonders when functioning properly, particularly when faced with a pathogen that is not entirely unknown to it. A minor illness, severe sleep deprivation, malnutrition or permanent stress, however, is sufficient to undermine its effectiveness. This is why ‘immune awareness’, the mindful supporting of the defence mechanisms of your body, is vital during an epidemic – and, really, any other time. One should try and avoid anything that is bound to weaken their body.

This is no time for things like endurance hiking, juice fasting or radical diets aimed at losing weight. Try not to move house at times like this, or undertake any other kind of major changes which may cause major stress. Have at least 7 hours of sleep each day, and do not mind putting on some weight. Some reserve may come handy, particularly during a longer illness. In short, do not deplete your reserves; strive for a balanced, relaxed and ‘recharged’ state and condition. Winter is a period of withdrawal and slowing down for all living creatures – and so we all should take a little rest.

Do green surgical masks protect us?

The main role of surgical masks is to protect against the fast spread of the virus: if someone is infected but wears the mask, they are less likely to pass on the virus to others. And since one of the characteristics of the current SARS-CoV-2 epidemic is that there is high number of asymptomatic infected persons, the ideal thing would be that all of us wear masks when coming in contact with other people. We don’t know if we carry the virus ourselves or not, if we have no symptoms. And all those who have respiratory symptoms, such as rhinitis, should definitely cover their mouth with a mask if they enter in contact with other people- surgical masks serve this purpose perfectly.

If all of us were wearing medical masks for a few weeks and followed the other hygiene rules (such as hand washing) be it in the current situation or during other epidemics (e.g. during the flu season), the spread of the epidemic would slow down significantly and a lot more people would stay healthy!

But surgical masks can also, protect their wearers to some degree from being infected. Because coronavirus infects best through the larger droplets of saliva that fly out of our mouths while coughing, sneezing, and laughing - the virus "travels" on them, very effectively, indeed: these drops can come out of our mouths at a speed of up to 50 m / s and can get as far as 6 meters! That means, it is in vain that we keep the recommended distance of 1-2 meters ... However, there is evidence that surgical masks are able to capture the big droplets that pose the greatest risk stopping them from getting into the air.

Medical masks are also very useful when treating a patient, e.g. a family member. If you don’t want the entire family to get infected, it is worth giving the ill person a surgical mask. This type of mask doesn’t impede normal breathing and is comfortable to wear.

The video below shows you how to use masks properly. The keywords are: wash your hands before watching the recording; don’t touch the mask while you are wearing it; wash your hands before and after you take it off. While wearing the mask and after taking it off behave as if the outside of your mask were contaminated, that is, don’t touch it.

Disposable surgical masks are disposable in every sense of the word and protect until they are noticeably wet. In this case, they must be replaced immediately, and the used masks thrown away.

Remember: no matter what masks we are wearing, they will only be effective if we continue to pay attention to frequent hand washing, if we avoid touching our face, and keep the distance recommended.

What type of masks offer effective protection from contracting the virus?

Primarily half face masks we can all see workers wear for example – beyond the mouth these masks also cover the nose and seal around the side of the face, preventing airflow. These are disposable maintenance-free particle filtering half-face masks, called filtering face pieces or FFP. They come in three protection grades:

  • FFP1: FFP1 grade masks offer protection against non-toxic dust and fluid particles (oil and water based mist) that are no-toxic but irritate the mucous membranes (e.g. during drilling, sanding and cutting). This type of mask filters out particles larger than 5 microns.
  • FFP2: FFP2 grade masks offer protection against fine dust and fluid particles (oil and water based mist) moderately dangerous to health (e.g. working with mortar and cement, and during woodworking). This type of mask filters out particles larger than 1 micron.
  • FFP3: FFP3 grade masks offer protection against toxic solid and fluid particles (e.g. during pharmaceutical and chemical operations). This type of mask is capable of filtering out particles smaller than 1 micron.

The diameter of the 2019 coronavirus is 50-200 nanometres. However, it is not the virus itself but the vehicle carrying it, that a mask should catch – in most cases it is drops of saliva travelling or floating in the air – these are considerably larger than the virus itself.

While the permeability of FFP2 masks provide considerable (92-94%) protection against the coronavirus, it is FFP3 masks that come closest to providing 100% protection.

How to wear an FFP face mask properly?

Most face masks that are available in the market are disposable – those are white in colour. They provide the highest degree of protection as long as they are worn continuously. They should not be taken off or reached underneath with the fingers until they are to be discarded. Accordingly, those who wish to protect themselves against the infection during a two-hour flight and at the airport for example, should not remove, nor reach under, the mask during the entire journey.

Put the mask on right after removing it from its packaging. Make sure that the mask perfectly fits your face – there should be no gaps between your skin and the mask. (Only FFP masks and similar reusable products are suitable for this – the medical face masks are not.) Beard or other forms of facial hair prevents the mask from conforming to the skin all along the edge, so facial hair should be removed if you want to maximise the effectiveness of your face mask.

If the mask needs to be taken off (e.g. for eating) and there is no new one at hand, it should be placed in an effectively ventilated place where there are no other people. And do not forget to wash your hands thoroughly before doing so. Do not touch the mask on the inside, and store it in a sterile bag when not in use. And keep in mind: FFP masks are designed for single use. Once taken off, these masks lose a considerable amount of their protective capabilities: when they are not worn the virus can land on the inside of the mask as well as on your face.

Masks can be worn continuously for many hours on end. But after use, they must be disposed of. Hours of breathing and talking gradually saturates the mask with moisture. And a wet face mask will not protect you from viruses – if anything, it increases the risk of infection. As soon as your mask feels wet waste no time, replace it with a new, dry one. Since the coronavirus – and the flu – can also enter your body through the eyes, you should never touch your eyes with hands unwashed. Not even when you are wearing a mask.

Do not be surprised to find that a mask (particularly an FFP3 level one) will not let the air through as freely as when you normally, freely breathe – but of course you will be able to breathe in enough air even with a mask on. Breathe calmly and evenly, you will get used to it quickly enough. If you do physically demanding work while wearing a mask you may find it harder than usual, as harder work requires more oxygen. If you feel dizzy, ease up a bit and move to a more ventilated area.

Do masks offer 100% protection?

No. Not even a mask that filters out 100% of all viruses in the air you breathe in will provide you with absolute protection. This is because your mouth and nose are not the only openings of your body viruses can enter through – there are your eyes for example; also, this virus can survive for a while on your clothes and things you touch. Complete protection is only possible by also wearing protective goggles and hooded protective apparel. Such protection should be used by health professionals or others more exposed to hazard, or when you are taking care of an infected family member at home and direct contact is unavoidable. But anyone can wear a mask in normal circumstances, should the situation be such that it is necessary.

But everyone should keep in mind that proper and thorough personal hygiene is paramount, even if you wear a mask! Wash your hands regularly, use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, avoid kissing people, keep your distance from others, disinfect surfaces etc.

Is it true that a runny nose and coughing up phlegm are signs that you don’t have the coronavirus, as COVID-19 will cause dry cough?

Sadly, it isn’t. This widespread misconception is dangerous, not only because it is simply not true but also because it tempts one to self-diagnose. Identifying the causes of respiratory symptoms takes laboratory tests. You cannot go “by the looks of it”. If you live in or have visited a place where the epidemic is present, and observe the symptoms on yourself, go and see a doctor.

What symptoms should warrant a consultation with the doctor?

The most common clinical symptoms of the coronavirus infection include high fever, dry cough, chest pain, muscle pain, respiratory distress, a shortness of breath and fatigue. The symptoms may appear mild during the initial phase – indeed, most of the people who have contracted the disease experience not more than a modestly unpleasant condition with upper respiratory symptoms. However, many – up to 15–20% – of those affected will develop pneumonia while 5–10% will show critical symptoms (severe pneumonia with acute respiratory distress syndrome), and will require life-saving interventions.

This is why it is crucial that anyone observing the above symptoms (even in a mild form), and has the slightest chance of having contracted the coronavirus (having visited an infected area, having been in contact with anyone coming from such an area etc.) should consult their doctor – by phone. Do not pass the disease on to others! The first thing to do is calling your family doctor by phone.

What to do when you suspect that you or anyone around you have contracted the virus?

In case you observe any of the typical symptoms of the infection (respiratory symptoms, fever, muscle pain) on yourself or anyone around you, make sure to stay at home. Do not visit the family doctor or a hospital with a suspected coronavirus infection! Instead, call the doctor or, if your or others’ condition is more serious, the ambulance. Make sure to let them know you suspect it is a case of coronavirus, explain why you think so (such as having returned from an area where the disease is present or have been in contact with someone who has come from such a place).

When will there be a vaccine for the coronavirus?

It takes 12 to 18 months, or possibly even a lot longer, to develop a vaccine, and even more time to manufacture hundreds of millions of units the world needs. Distributing the vaccine and then the development of the immune response will also take time. In short, the solution at this point lies not in vaccination but the production of quick tests and stopping the virus from spreading. Moreover, viruses tend to mutate (the coronavirus already comes in mutations some of which cause even more severe symptoms than the “original” ones), so even a vaccine, when it’s ready for use, may not provide full protection. This is why it is of utmost importance that everyone focuses on preventing a full-blown epidemic, curbing its spreading and encouraging others to approach the situation with the same mindset.

Will the coming warmer period help slowing down the coronavirus epidemic?

Optimists hope so, expecting it to only be a seasonal epidemic, somewhat like your average flu. A look at the areas swept by the virus shows that tropical areas have remained relatively unaffected so far. The truth is that this type of coronavirus such a new thing that we are quite in the dark about how it behaves in warmer weather, so, at the present there is no definitive answer to this question. With rising temperatures the virus may lose some of its vitality and become less contagious – but then again, it may also turn out to be nothing but a false hope.

Should the virus spread all over the world, is it possible that we will have to face a COVID-19 epidemic each year from now on?

A next epidemic may come about in a wide variety of ways, even from the original carrier, with a new chain of infections and/or with the appearance of mutants. A reliable long term solution would be an adequate rate of vaccination against the virus version already known and then the introduction and application of strict, well designed and executed epidemic prevention protocols.

How stable is this virus? How successfully will it mutate and what is the likelihood of a mutant much more dangerous than this one appearing?

This type of coronavirus appears to be a new, hitherto unknown one. Its genome is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA, and as such, it is highly susceptible to mutation. We already know of a variety of mutants producing more severe symptoms. With a little luck, however, a friendlier version may also crop up and some variants may even die off after a while, as a result of the application of suitable protocols.

There are various theories about how the virus appeared and started to spread in the first place. Which is the most plausible one?

People are increasingly likely to meet/contact organisms unknown and just a few decades ago – humans simply did not meet them, and thus did not carry them all over the globe. Viruses (like a lot of other things) are carried and spread in relatively closed environments – or niches –, determined by natural processes. And it is these systems that we break up again and again, in some cases purposely, without any self-constraint, in other cases purely out of negligence.

Sources show that in the case of this coronavirus either an animal called pangolin or some snake was the original host organism, and perhaps bats conveyed the virus as a carrier in between those and humans. Research will probably provide us with more and more accurate answers over time. What makes things more complicated is that the COVID-19 is an ssRNA-based creature that readily mutates, so we may be facing multiple mutants by now.

Should we plan on a summer holiday in Italy or any other area hit by the epidemic?

No trips should be scheduled for the coming 4-6 months, unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Everyone should stay at home instead.

Can products coming from infected regions be dangerous?

What we have already learned about the virus indicates that the coronavirus can survive for quite a while.

Why is it important to find patient zero in any given region?

Patient zero is the first one to contract the virus and/or carry it to a specific geographical area. It is important that they be found because that is how authorities can find out where the infection has come from and so trace back the chain of infections, i.e. find the individuals patient zero may have contacted and infected, and then who else may have caught the disease. Moreover, by examining patient zero may make it possible to establish the original form of the virus before it started mutating.

Many are stockpiling products at home, while others find this to be quite a harmful form of behaviour, as it will cause shortages in stores. What is the proper attitude?

For our grandparents it was only natural to always keep enough water and food at home for even longer periods of time. The times they have lived through have taught them how to manage reserves to survive wars and times of dearth. Today we feel safe in this regard – you can just pop in at the non-stop grocery store any time you want. But this prosperity is a rather fragile one. As “little” as a massive epidemic is enough to close down shops, let alone a major disaster. And the supply an average household has is no more than some flour and canned food enough for about a week, at best.

What we recommend is that everyone should purchase and always keep stock of food and water that should last for a little longer period of time at home. This also allows you to plan your procurements significantly more cost effectively and you may even save time doing so. You see, problems may pop up out of the blue any time (just think of events like a major snowfall) and it may become difficult or downright impossible to go to your local store and buy food and other day-to-day provisions including some common medicines. We all have to learn some basic rules on how to fend for ourselves, and not only because of the coronavirus.

Having weeks of supplies of day-to-day consumer goods at home is particularly important during an epidemic because it spares one from having to go shopping in crowded food stores or supermarkets where the likelihood of contracting the virus is considerably higher. Even simple precautions like going shopping at less intensive hours helps reduce the risk of infection. And if you have ample reserves in your pantry and fridge you are much more free to choose when you go shopping.

What lessons can we draw from the current situation?

This current coronavirus epidemic gives us a taste of what we are going to have to face a lot in the future. With the global population of billions, global mobility and the inequality resulting from climate change we are bound to meet new viruses, bacteria and other pathogens for which we have no immune response yet. Mankind must adopt and master practices for responding to anything that starts spreading. I am talking about measures like prevention, hygiene, mini quarantines for the ill – and, indeed, even for the healthy –, along with voluntary quarantines and self provision. Communities can achieve much more with such practices than by hospitalising masses of people as a response.

Some of the most effective means of the fight against epidemics come in the form of viral videos, correct data and advice as well as readily consumable facts about prevention, all of which can be spread around the world to an immense audience in no time thanks to the modern communication channels we have at our disposal. It is our responsibility to pass all this information on and spread them as extensively as we possibly can.

What does Lavylites do to protect its own employees?

More than fifty people are working at the Lavylites branches and offices, and we want to protect them from danger. We keep them informed and advise them to take the necessary precautions in a calm manner, without any unnecessary worries, for a potential emergency situation even in their private lives, and we will also change certain workplace protocols. We have purchased protective equipment and distributed the necessary items to our employees. Those who can have shifted to home office. Nobody is going on trips abroad for a while. Those who have to travel nonetheless, are provided with face masks for the flight or train journey. And we will also take care of colleagues off work for illness or quarantined for an extended period of time; the company provides for such employees as required by law – in fact, even more.

Is Lavylites conducting research on the coronavirus?

Yes, our microbiological and physiological research institute has started working on it, applying a relatively unique approach. We are hoping for quick results.

And the charity fund operated by Tibor Jakabovics has been working on the logistics of stockpiling, with a focus primarily on assets that are vital in an emergency.