People with COVID-19 are ‘most infectious’ in first 7 days after developing symptoms: NCID consultant

People with COVID-19 are ‘most infectious’ in first 7 days after developing symptoms: NCID consultant

What have doctors in Singapore learnt about the new coronavirus, two months after the first patient was identified here? CNA speaks to NCID consultant Dr Wong Chen Seong to find out.

COVID-19 microscope image
This image obtained March 12, 2020 courtesy of The National Institutes of Health(NIH)/NIAD-RML shows a scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. (Photo: Handout/National Institutes of Health/AFP)

SINGAPORE: Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in Singapore on Jan 23, health experts here have “learnt quite a lot” about the virus including when infected people are the most infectious.

Dr Wong Chen Seong, a consultant at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) told CNA in an interview on Monday (Mar 23) that the first week is when the viral levels “are at the highest” in an infected person’s respiratory secretions.

READ: FAQ - COVID-19 and its outbreak

READ: Singapore reports 54 new COVID-19 cases in highest daily spike, including 48 imported infections

This means secretions from the nose and mouth produced when people cough, speak or sneeze, Dr Wong said.

After that, the viral level drops in the second week, which indicates that patients are “most infectious” in the first week, he added.

This is why the message by the authorities has been that if you have any symptoms, seek medical attention, Dr Wong reiterated.

“If you’re given a stay-home notice or asked to stay home on medical certificate, just stay at home. Avoid contact with people unnecessarily.”

READ: FAQ - When will a stay-home notice be issued, and what does it mean?

Dr Wong was also asked if patients here have experienced the loss of the sense of smell, also known as anosmia, given that British healthcare experts flagged this as a symptom for COVID-19 infections last week. 

To this, he said: "We have heard reports, especially from overseas, of patients losing their sense of smell.

"We've had a few patients here at NCID who have reported such symptoms as well. But as to how common it is, we don't really have a clear idea of that yet," the consultant added.

What, then, should people do if they are living with someone who may be symptomatic of the virus? This is especially since many who have worked or travelled overseas return to Singapore, and are issued a stay-home notice or leave of absence order to follow.

Dr Wong advised people to maintain really good personal hygiene at home.

The person who is displaying symptoms of the virus should isolate themselves in their own room as much as possible. In shared spaces, make sure good hand hygiene is practised and avoid sharing cutlery or food, he said.

He also gave a message to Singaporeans who may be feeling anxious and uncertain over the ongoing pandemic outbreak: “These are uncertain times and they are quite scary times as well, but we’ve gone through difficult times in the past, and we will get through this.

“But we can only get through this if we go it together.”

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Source: CNA/kk

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