A frontline doctor in the fight against coronavirus and her husband, a molecular geneticist, have underlined the importance of delivering correct information about coronavirus during this time of uncertainty.

Over the past weeks, Dr Karen Borg, a doctor specialising in public health medicine, has been swabbing patients and helping with contact tracing to explain public health measures and precautions to anyone who has been in contact with coronavirus patients.

She is constantly fielding questions by worried people, imbued with fear-fuelling misconceptions based on incorrect information. “One thing I’ve seen when meeting people is fear. They feel threatened by the virus and have lots of questions. They question what the diagnosis will mean for them and their family – in terms of health and socially,” she says.

Karen Borg is on the frontline in the fight against coronavirusKaren Borg is on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that COVID-19 is as simple as the common cold. One of the biggest struggles is that of convincing people to remain indoors.”

Meanwhile, her husband Prof. Joseph Borg – a molecular geneticist and academic in the Department of Applied Biomedical Science at the University of Malta – feels that explaining how the virus actually works could help people better understand what we are faced with.

He is also president of the Malta Association of Biomedical Scientists, whose members among others, play critical roles in the timely testing and reporting of results.

Karen and Joseph, both 37, met at the University of Malta while studying for their first degree. Back then, Karen was studying to become a nurse.

They got married 10 years ago and have three boys, aged nine, five and one.

“Our two older sons also ask questions. They know what’s happening because we explain and they hear a lot about the coronavirus,” says Karen.

The virus is enveloped in a bubble of oily lipid molecules, which falls apart on contact with soap

“They’ve asked me if it’s true I wear a mask at work, if I ever met someone who has coronavirus, what will happen if we will get sick.”

Her husband adds: “Karen and I talk a lot about it. The kids overhear and we also involve them in some of the discussions to try to alleviate their fears and concerns in a manner they can understand.”

As parents they were initially concerned, especially since Karen is on the frontline.

“As a mother, going home to my family after work, I was anxious at first. But now I try to get used to it. It is slowly becoming the new norm,” she says, underlining the great support among healthcare workers.

“This all shows it is important to be kind, as people are under pressure. We need to all take care of ourselves so that we can help others. Finally, we need to trust the health authorities, for we are all part of a hardworking team,” she says.

Inside coronavirus

Over the past weeks we have repeatedly heard that the best way to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus is to wash our hands with soap, avoid touching our face, keep our distance from sick people and regularly clean frequently-used surfaces.

Joseph believes that understanding how the virus actually works will help people better understand the recommendations issued by the health authorities. 

How it works

The coronavirus is named after the crownlike spikes (corona) that protrude from its surface and help it attach itself to human cells.

The virus enters the body by means of contact through mucous surfaces such as through the nose, mouth or eyes, then attaches to cells in the airway.

The virus then infects the cell by fusing its oily membrane with that of a human cell membrane, also made of oily lipids.

The membranes of the virus and human cell coalesce together and, once inside, the coronavirus releases a snippet of genetic material called RNA – more primitive than DNA.

The infected cell reads the RNA and begins synthesising proteins that keep the immune system at bay and help assemble new copies of the virus. Each infected cell can release millions of copies of the virus before the cell finally breaks down and dies.

Soap literally bursts its bubble

COVID-19 – the virus that is causing the world-wide pandemic spreading around the world – has a sworn enemy: soap.

“The virus is enveloped in a bubble of oily lipid molecules, which falls apart on contact with soap. The part that looks like a ball completely detangles itself. Soap and water burst its bubble. Soap destroys the virus when the water-shunning tails of the soap molecules wedge themselves into the oily lipid membrane of the virus and pry it apart,” he says.

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