Four medical laboratory scientists from Fiji National University (FNU), College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences (CMNHS) joined the “Explain the Science” roundtables on COVID-19, intended to provide a platform for experts to speak out on facts related to COVID-19 disease, swab testing, vaccines, etc., so that the people of Fiji can make informed decisions about them.
Organized and moderated by CMNHS Research Associate Dean and Fiji Institute of Pacific Health Research (FIPHR) Director Dr Donald Wilson, Round 8 panelists were Assistant Professor Aruna Devi, Transfusion Medicine Lecturer Adriu Sepeti , lecturer in molecular biology and genetics Atlesh Nand and lecturer in microbiology and immunology Taina Naivalu, who is also head of the department of pathology and medical laboratory sciences.
The panel discussion was conducted via Zoom and streamed live on the FNU and CMNHS Facebook pages. Discussions highlighted the differences between bacteria and viruses, coronavirus and influenza virus, transmission of the virus from wildlife to humans, the incubation period, the immune system and its response, and COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr Devi, who worked in the Department of Health’s pathology labs for nine years before pursuing his career in academia, said people need to understand bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19 are different .
She said bacteria can exist on their own while viruses need a host to survive, adding that structurally the larger virus is always smaller than the smaller bacteria.
“Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot survive without a host. They can only reproduce by attaching to a cell and reprogramming a cell to make new viruses, ”she said.
Dr Devi stressed the importance of people knowing the difference.
“For bacterial infections, it can be treated with antibiotics, but for viruses, you need antivirals to treat the disease. Most importantly, you can prevent viral infections in the first place by getting vaccinated. “
“Antibiotics don’t work for viral infections.”
Naivalu added that the coronavirus and influenza viruses also differ in their genetic makeup, explaining that the makeup of the virus can be destroyed using detergents or hand sanitizers.
“This is why the Ministry of Health emphasized that we wash our hands with soap and water because the soap will destroy the envelope (of the virus). When the envelope is destroyed, the tips will not be stable enough to stick to our cells, ”she said.
“This is why it is important to wash regularly with soap and water because we understand the structure of the virus. The same goes for washing your hands with alcohol or hand sanitizer.
Sepeti said that because the virus has the ability to pass from person to person, containing the virus in a certain area will make it go away.
For those who have contracted COVID-19, Nand said they would show varying degrees of signs of having the virus, depending on their degree of symptomatology or asymptomatic.
“The incubation period is from when you contract the virus until when your symptoms start to appear and it can be anywhere from two to 14 days,” Nand said.
Naivalu has also demonstrated a person’s innate and adaptive immune response to foreign and invading organisms.
The panelists also discussed how vaccines have helped contain the transmission of the virus to avoid spawning new variants.