The people who are part of the Center for Science, Communication and Society Studies work daily with scientific and medical information, we help communication professionals to orient themselves among this information and we also have a vocation to serve citizens. Since the first cases of COVID-19 in the world we have been reporting regularly from our Twitter account @ccupf and the rest of our network. We now write this post with two clear objectives: (1) to present a selection of useful and rigorous information resources for both communication professionals and citizens, and (2) to summarize the basic information about what we know so far about the disease and the current pandemic situation.
We are aware that information changes from day to day, and with it our perception of the pandemic, its scope, its immediate consequences (and in the short and long term) also changes. We are experiencing a painful stage in which the only way to learn to live with uncertainty is information: good information.
We hope, therefore, that this compilation will be useful to you.
Useful and rigorous information resources for communication professionals and citizens
1. Updated information by health administration sources:
- (Catalan) Updated information for citizens and professionals. Canal Salut, Generalitat de Catalunya, @salutcat.
- (Spanish) Current situation regarding the coronavirus in Spain. Ministerio de Sanidad.
- (Spanish) Situation of COVID-19 in Spain. Instituto de Salud Carlos III.
- (Spanish) World map of the coronavirus. RTVE.
- (Spanish) Sanitary and public health recommendations of general interest. Ministerio de Sanidad.
- (Spanish e English) Information and guidelines from the World Health Organization on the current COVID-19 outbreak. WHO.
- (Inglés) Daily updated reports on the status of COVID-19. WHO.
- (Spanish e English) Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters. WHO.
- (English) Information and guidance on the situation of the coronavirus. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
- (Spanish e English) Information and guidance on the situation of the coronavirus. Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades.
2. Updated information from scientific sources:
- (English) Real-time map of COVID-1. John Hopkins University.
- (Catalan, Spanish and English) Relevant information about the virus and the pandemic by the Institute of Global Health. Informative and interpretive articles, videos, links to scientific content, etc. ISGlobal.
3. Our selection of informative resources of high value for citizens (some created from collaborations between health entities, scientists and communication specialists):
- (Spanish) Smartphone application with content for health personnel and for citizens EpidemiXs.
- (Spanish) This resource helps us deal with the abundant unfounded rumors and lies that circulate these days about COVID-19. Maldita Ciencia.
- (Spanish) Charts on the evolution of COVID-19 in Spain and the world. Europa Press.
- (Spanish and Catalan) “Mussol y el coronavirus“, story written and illustrated by Enrique Vidal, with the collaboration of Julia Vergara-Alert and Xavier Abad.
- (English, Arabic, French and Spanish) “WHO WhatsApp health alert”: WhatsApp chat that will provide vital information about COVID-19 to millions of people through their mobile phones. WHO.
4. Research resources in open access:
- (English) Papers, magazines and scientific news. Frontiers.
- (English) Curated content by experts for research and the health sector on the new coronavirus. Elsevier Novel Coronavirus Information Center.
- (English) Scientific papers updated daily, classified by research topics and geographic locations. LIT-Covidien, del NIH.
- (English) Collection of information from all the magazines of The Lancet group. The Lancet.
- (English) Collection of articles and other resources (clinical reports, management guidelines and comments). The New England Journal of Medicine – Coronavirus.
5. Journalistic resources
- (Catalan, Spanish) How to report the coronavirus? Revista Mètode.
- (Spanish) Tips for reporting the coronavirus. Asociación Española de Comunicación Científica (AECC).
- (Spanish and English) Scientific journalistic information. SINC agency (acronym for Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas).
- (Spanish) Resources in Spanish and English to inform about the coronavirus. Rafael Ángel Fernández Gutiérrez, periodista.
- (Spanish) Analysis of the information contained in the subtitles on the coronavirus in the Spanish media. Centro Español del Subtitulado y la Audiodescripción (CESyA).
- (Spanish) Journalism in times of #COVID19. Fundamedios.
- (English) COVID-19 Social Stigma Guide. WHO and UNICEF.
6. Language recommendations:
- (Catalan) Vocabulary related to the coronavirus. ésAdir.
- (Spanish) Dictionary of concepts related to COVID-19. Genesis, Biomed.
- (Spanish) Published editorial keys. Fundéu.
7. Open science resources, citizen participation and innovation:
- (English) Registration platform for international clinical trials. WHO.
- (multiple languages) Training courses for healthcare professionals, decision-makers, and the public. WHO.
- (English) Challenge to collect good practices on how to inform and empower autonomous communities during the pandemic. OpenIDEO.
- (English) Virtual hackathon to find solutions to the crisis. German Federal Government.
- (Spanish) “Cienciatón”: A call for flash funding to support projects that contribute to solving health problems caused by the virus. Ministerio de Ciencias de Colombia.
Basic information on COVID-19 disease and the current state of the pandemic
What is it?
The current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is part of a family of viruses responsible for various human respiratory disorders. Coronaviruses (CoV) cause mild but occasionally more severe acute respiratory infections in humans. They infect a wide variety of animals, and several caves have crossed the species barrier, causing outbreaks of serious human respiratory diseases:
- The SARS-CoV virus caused the 2003 epidemic in Guangdong, China, which was eradicated unexpectedly, without any specific treatment. This virus caused acute respiratory infections and, in the most severe cases, mortality, which gives it the name of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). On the evolution of SARS-CoV and the complications that it presented.
- MERS-CoV first caused infections in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and continues to circulate in human and camel populations. This virus also causes respiratory difficulties that can lead to pneumonia and, in the most severe cases, cause death, and unlike SARS, it is also associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. On the status of the MERS-CoV.
The new coronavirus has been called SARS-CoV-2 (due to its genetic similarity to SARS-CoV), and the disease that infected people develop is called COVID-19.
Viruses infect the body by entering the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth, and then attach themselves with the proteins on its surface to the cells of the body, especially those of the lung.Once inside the body, it is when the virus can reproduce by making copies of itself, using material from healthy cells of the infected body, and thus multiplies throughout the body. The airway between the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs is the same place that seasonal flu strikes in winter, making it easy to confuse symptoms at first. But COVID-19 can become more serious because it is more likely to deepen the airways, causing severe pneumonia.
Origin of the current coronavirus
The initial outbreak of the virus was in December 2019 in Whuan and spread until it was declared a pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization.
Wild animals and bats are considered to be the primary hosts with a crucial role in the transmission of various viruses, such as Ebola, Nipah, Coronavirus, and others. SARS-CoV-2 probably originated in bats, since several studies show that its genetic material is 96% identical to the coronaviruses that these animals present. However, more information is still required to confirm this and to know if it is transmitted directly from bats to humans or is there an intermediate host.
Why is it so important to know which animal or animals have been at the origin of transmission to humans? For many viruses, one of the key steps in the spread process is the jump from animals to humans. Therefore, the identification of the origin of the virus would be useful establish strategies to control its spread.
What is its evolution so far?
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) collects the updated evolution on the number of cases in each country, as well as the number of deaths and people recovered. This informative resource is being key in communicating the evolution of the disease, especially on a global scale, and both from official sources and from the media, the JHU map or adaptations of it are often used. According to the JHU map, at 12.00 on April 1 they have registered 862,234 cases, 42,404 deaths and 178,836 recovered worldwide. Specifically, Spain has confirmed 95,923 coronavirus cases, 8,464 deaths and 19,259 recovered. In this link you can be sure of the updated evolution of the virus in Spain and the rest of the world.
Why has COVID-19 brought us to this situation??
Compared to the epidemics caused years ago by other coronaviruses, one of the main characteristics of the virus that produces COVID-19 is its rapid transmission between people and the consequent spread throughout the world, aggravated by the ease and high frequency in that we are currently traveling from one country to another (The Lancet, Vol. 395, No. 10229, p1015-1018). These two factors have caused the disease to become a pandemic in a few months. It is believed that a person infected with coronavirus, a couple of days before presenting symptoms and without being aware of the possibility of having the disease, can already spread (Science). It is even thought that there would be the possibility of infecting once a person has passed COVID-19 and no longer has symptoms. It appears that people continue to carry the virus for about two weeks after recovering from the disease (medRxiv).
A person can develop COVID-19 by contact with another who is infected with the virus, it can spread from person to person mainly when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In this way, respiratory drops from the infected person can fall on objects, surfaces and also people around them. When you breathe in these drops, or touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a surface where the virus is, it can enter the body. Most viruses can live for several hours on a surface or in the ground. The WHO indicates that it is unknown how long the virus survives on surfaces, but it appears to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that they can persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. It can vary in different conditions (for example, type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). This study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that the virus can remain viable in cardboard for 14 hours, up to 3 days in plastic and stainless steel, and can remain in the air for up to 3 hours.
The other problem presented by COVID-19 is that as the volume of patients requiring hospitalization and even admission to ICUs spreads so rapidly, it is extremely high. For this reason, the hospitals, despite using the maximum resources (in terms of space and personnel) they have, cannot cope. The concentration of patients who require urgent hospital care causes extraordinary requirements that make the situation especially difficult. Among others, the high protection requirements required by both the patients themselves and the health workers (masks, gloves, PPE, cleaning, isolation, etc.), other requirements due to the disease and its complications (tests to confirm cases, medications, respirators, respiratory physiotherapy, etc.) or the specific needs of hospitalization (screening, analytical and diagnostic imaging tests, emergency room, ICU and plant beds, food and care of the person during hospitalization, etc. ). To this highly complex situation must be added the fact that a not inconsiderable percentage of health workers are on sick leave due to the disease itself and that in recent years the Spanish public health system has suffered serious cuts in economic terms, in number hospital beds and, especially, human resources. To try to alleviate the serious situation we are in and what may become in the coming days, new hospital beds (or similar) are being created, hiring more staff, buying materials and medicines, and taking more urgent measures. These measures are announced daily through the various communication channels of the Ministry of Health, with appearances and press conferences live and open.
Apart from the hospital requirements, the protection of vulnerable people (especially in the nursing homes, but also in other places) causes an extraordinary demand that must be guaranteed. These weeks in which the cases that develop the disease rise exponentially are especially serious – and are expected to be – these are people who were probably infected before taking the strict measures that the state of alarm implies, and now they are beginning to present hit the symptoms.
This study, published in The Lancet, talks about the importance of distance measures promoted both in Spain and in other countries, in order to reduce the contagion curve and thus avoid saturation of the health system. The researchers warn that if these measures are relaxed, there will be a risk of a new peak of cases.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The Ministry of Health released a technical report on March 18 from studies conducted in China detailing some of the most common symptoms and signs of coronavirus illness. The most frequent symptoms and signs are fever (87.9%), dry cough (67.7%), asthenia (38.1%), expectoration (33.4%), dyspnea (18.6%), pain throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), myalgia or arthralgia (14.8%), chills (11.4%), nausea or vomiting (5%), nasal congestion (4.8%) ), diarrhea (3.7%), hemoptysis (0.9%) and conjunctival congestion (0.8%). Later, other symptoms have been detected, especially singular is the presentation of anosmia (reversible loss of the sense of smell) that some patients present.
In general, the symptoms of COVID-19 are mild, especially in children and young adults. However, they can also be serious and force about one in five infected to hospitalize. People over the age of 70, those suffering from various chronic pathologies (such as respiratory and heart ailments, cancer, etc.) are especially vulnerable to suffering a serious form of the condition. Although they do not represent a high percentage, it is being studied very especially in a subgroup of people who, without having advanced age or especially debilitating base ailments, have severe forms of COVID-19.
Therefore, it is logical to be concerned about the effects that the COVID-19 outbreak may have on us and our loved ones. But this concern should serve to take protective measures for us, our loved ones and the communities where we live. The main and most important measure is regular and complete hygiene of the hands and respiratory tract. Second, it is important to stay informed and follow the advice of local, state and international health authorities. You can consult the advice on the protection of the World Health Organization here.
In the current coronavirus pandemic, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is used from the first days to determine if a person is infected or not. In addition to this tool, rapid, simpler and fast diagnostic tests have been added in recent days.
The use of PCR is common and routine in the microbiology laboratories of hospitals, research centers and universities, using this technique a fragment of genetic material is located and amplified, which in the case of the coronavirus is an RNA molecule. If the PCR technique does not detect the genetic material of the virus, the person would not be infected; when there is significant clinical suspicion, another test must be performed to ensure that the patient is not infected with the virus. PCR presents a certain degree of complexity, so it needs trained and prepared personnel to carry it out, and it takes a few hours to give results. Now they are beginning to do tests with rapid tests, which allow knowing in 10-15 minutes whether a person is infected or not. This rapid diagnostic technique could not be started until the last few days, since it required a large number of patients to develop them. Rapid tests do not identify virus RNA as PCR does, but detect either antibodies raised against viruses using a blood sample or virus proteins present in respiratory samples of nasopharyngeal exudate. In this way, after having the information from other cases with COVID-19, it was possible to characterize the antibodies they generate against SARS-CoV-2, and thus develop fast diagnostic tests.
Thanks to these rapid tools, it is planned to improve screening in the population and limit PCR assays only to those patients who, with symptoms, give a negative result through rapid tests, thus allowing the release of professionals and resources from the National Health System.
Fight virus and pandemic
Distance and protection measures
To combat coronavirus, the most immediate thing is to do what is within the reach of each one of us, that is, those preventive and protective measures established that help us reduce the risk of exposure to the virus and contagion. Check out here which are WHO’s advices.
Pharmacological treatment and vaccine
Patients with COVID-19 are treated nonspecifically for their respiratory symptoms and other complications they may present, but the challenge is to find antiviral drugs and/or a vaccine that specifically act against this virus, attacking it directly or preventing the disease.
One of the main fronts of the research is the vaccine. Work is still ongoing today on the development of a vaccine against the coronaviruses that have previously appeared, both SARS-CoV and MEROS-CoV. Three vaccines are in phases I and II of clinical trials, phases in which the safety of the vaccine and the response of the human immune system are evaluated. Even so, no vaccine is yet available to combat these viruses detected in 2002 and 2012. It is important, but that when a possible vaccine for COVID-19 began to be studied, there was already work done thanks to these studies.
From the beginning of the appearance of the COVID-19 disease, research began on the virus that caused it and the possibility of developing a vaccine to combat it. Currently, many institutions are already working to achieve this. Although we already have very advanced vaccine prototypes, it is still uncertain when we will be able to see a viable vaccine. On the one hand, it must be verified that it really is safe and effective, and does not cause, for example, that vaccinated people have more difficulties when exposed to the virus. On the other hand, funding has to be found to produce vaccines on a large scale so that everyone can access it. In this scenario, in a certain way, what is being generated is a race between the institutions of different countries to patent the vaccine.
As the development of a vaccine is a slow process, other possible therapies by infected people are also being studied, such as the administration of antivirals authorized by other ailments caused by viruses following various combinations and doses. Although there are numerous clinical trials underway, there is currently no evidence to recommend a specific treatment for SARS-CoV-2.
The Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) with experts from European agencies, the European Medicine Agency and other agencies outside the EU, is continuously monitoring all data related to the use of medicines for treatment or prophylaxis of respiratory infection by SARS-CoV-2.
To date, there are only partial, preliminary data, sometimes only in vitro or even contradictory, on the efficacy of one or another product. Thus, whenever possible, priority should be given to the possibility of conducting clinical studies that, while offering a plausible treatment alternative, generate useful knowledge.
It goes without saying that at this time it is very tangible that scientific research has to have sustained resources. The investigation cannot be improvised. The strongest countries in research are also those that are leading this fight against the clock, apart from some notable efforts that are being launched in our country.
To generate strong, high-quality scientific evidence of possible treatment by patients with COVID-19 as soon as possible, the World Health Organization launched the “Solidarity” initiative on March 23. It is an international database that collects information from various clinical trials, testing the potential of therapies, old and new, to combat the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The therapies to be tested are with: remdesivir; chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine; lopinavir plus ritonavir; and lopinavir plus ritonavir and interferon-beta. More information on therapies in The British Medical Journal and AEMPS.
Coronavirus in medi
The coronavirus has led, in addition to a pandemic, to a global infodèmia among which it is often easy to find false news or “hoaxes”, which the only thing they generate is more fear-mongering among citizens. For this reason, it is important to stay informed, but always trying to contrast the information with reliable sources. It is recurrent, especially in social networks, falling into information that is not explained in the most rigorous way and that can be misinterpreted and disseminated in an imprecise and even erroneous way.
Making mistakes when talking about a health crisis that is so recent and we still have a long way to go is a possibility that no one can rule out. Furthermore, the information in these changing scenarios spreads very quickly, and for these reasons alone, we should try to be as rigorous as possible when talking about the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 pandemic.
Our recommendations once you read a news or new information related to the current coronavirus that, from the outset, generates mistrust, are the following:
- Read it carefully and ask ourselves: Do we know the authors of this text? Are they reliable?
- Make sure that we understand what you are trying to communicate.
- Resort to reliable sources where you can contrast the information. In the first section of this post you can find some of the sources of consultation that we recommend.
- If we want to disseminate, try to be concrete and realistic when communicating what the information says and using the appropriate language for this topic.
- If we want to accompany the text with images, avoid using sensational images, to avoid creating alarmism.
- Finally, before sharing information, ask yourself: Will the information I share be useful to people who read it? Will sharing it help us better manage the situation we live in?
On the other hand, we recommend consulting this article in the Mètode magazine of the Universitat de València, where Gema Revuelta, director of the CCS-UPF, has collaborated in the preparation of recommendations to report on the coronavirus.
Once this filter is passed, what we share is more likely to contribute to reporting in a more clear, contrasted and rigorous way. The current situation is of extraordinary complexity and, therefore, our behavior as consumers and producers of information also has to be extremely scrupulous and responsible. Information is currently as important as other preventive measures.
Este blog cuenta con la colaboración de la Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología – Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación