Coronavirus FAQs

An illustration of a COVID-19 particle

25 March 2020

The Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at LSHTM is continuously monitoring the developments on the COVID19 pandemic. We have developed this FAQ to respond to the questions we have been receiving, as well as some key questions that can be helpful, with reference to the World Health Organization guidelines.

This FAQs will be updated as the situation changes, especially in The Gambia. Please check back regularly to get the most up-to-date information.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Is there any case of COVID19 in The Gambia?

Yes. The Gambia confirmed its first positive case of COVID-19 on 17 March 2020. To see the total number of cases and details on testing in The Gambia, please visit the daily diagnostics reports page.

Are contacts of the confirmed COVID-19 case being traced?

Yes. The Ministry of Health has teams in place to ensure urgent contact tracing. Those identified as close contacts are now being quarantined, and will be tested, in line with the decision to test all persons in quarantine before they are released.

Is it possible to get the COVID-19 testing done in The Gambia?

Yes. The Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine provides the COVID-19 testing in The Gambia, and this is done in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The Unit is also providing support to the Ministry to facilitate testing at the National Public Health Laboratories.

How can I get tested for COVID-19?

Our facilities are not open to walk-in requests for testing at the moment. COVID19 testing is facilitated by our partners at the Ministry of Health. All persons who may be observing COVID-19 symptoms should contact the Ministry of Health by calling the national helpline 1025 from any network, free of charge. Please follow the guidance you will receive.

Is testing free of charge?

The Unit is not charging any fees for the testing of suspected COVID-19 cases.

Is there any testing site other than the MRC?

At present, the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM is the only testing centre in The Gambia. Tests are being conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Is it safe to attend public events and gatherings?

The Gambia government has issued directives to limit public gatherings and encourage social distancing. Please refer to current directives from the Gambia Government website.

How likely am I to catch COVID-19?

The risk depends on where you are – and more specifically, whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak unfolding there.

For most people in most locations, the risk of catching COVID-19 is still low. However, there are now places around the world (cities or areas) where the disease is spreading. For people living in, or visiting, these areas the risk of catching COVID-19 is higher. Governments and health authorities are taking vigorous action every time a new case of COVID-19 is identified. Be sure to comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or large gatherings. Cooperating with disease control efforts will reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

COVID-19 outbreaks can be contained and transmission stopped, as has been shown in China and some other countries. Unfortunately, new outbreaks can emerge rapidly. It’s important to be aware of the situation where you are or intend to go.

WHO publishes daily updates on the COVID-19 situation worldwide:

Are antibiotics effective in preventing or treating COVID-19?

No. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment of COVID-19. They should only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.

Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure COVID-19?

While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19. However, there are several ongoing clinical trials that include both western and traditional medicines. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings are available.

Is there a vaccine, drug, or treatment for COVID-19?

Not yet. To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. People with serious illness should be hospitalized. Most patients recover thanks to supportive care.

Possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under investigation. They are being tested through clinical trials. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19.

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing. (See basic protective measures against the new coronavirus).

Should I wear a mask to protect myself?

Only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Disposable face mask can only be used once. If you are not ill or looking after someone who is ill then you are wasting a mask. There is a world-wide shortage of masks, so WHO urges people to use masks wisely.

WHO advises rational use of medical masks to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources and mis-use of masks (see advice on the use of masks).

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing. See basic protective measures against the new coronavirus for more information.

How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The 'incubation period' means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. These estimates will be updated as more data become available.

Can humans become infected with the COVID-19 from an animal source?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in animals. Occasionally, people get infected with these viruses which may then spread to other people. For example, SARS-CoV was associated with civet cats and MERS-CoV is transmitted by dromedary camels. Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed.

To protect yourself, such as when visiting live animal markets, avoid direct contact with animals and surfaces in contact with animals. Ensure good food safety practices at all times. Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products.

How long does the virus survive on survivors?

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Is there anything I should not do?

The following measures are not effective against COVID-2019 and can be harmful:

  • Smoking
  • Wearing multiple masks
  • Taking antibiotics (See question 10 'Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure COVID-19?')

In any case, if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early to reduce the risk of developing a more severe infection and be sure to share your recent travel history with your health care provider.