It’s time to get Scrub’d up! Order now. 

by Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya 

COVID-19 FAQS (29.03.2020)

The last couple of months has been information overload when it comes to COVID-19. The disease has caused rampage globally due to its’ highly contagious nature, affecting so many and killing thousands. With this mass information however, unfortunately also comes a whole load of misinformation. Fake videos, false news alerts, forwarded WhatsApp messages and a never-ending stream of Sri Lankan aunty/uncle theories has led to a lot of disbelief.

Listed below are questions I’m frequently asked about concerning Covid-19 and all answers are sourced from the CDC, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health Sri Lanka (Epidemiology Unit and Health Promotion Bureau).

An important point to remember is that Covid-19 is a new disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a well known family of viruses that are responsible for many respiratory infectious diseases such as SARS and MERS. However, this new strain has only been around since December 31st 2019 and the truth is, we’re all still learning about it.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and body aches/tiredness. Other symptoms also include sore throat, diarrhoea and strangely enough – the loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) has also been reported.

How is it spread?

The virus is spread via small respiratory droplets – during coughing, sneezing or exhaling. The WHO has repeatedly stated that there is no current evidence to suggest that the virus is airborne – meaning it does not remain in the air for long periods of time.

How infectious is Covid-19?

The reproduction number (the number of people that can be secondarily infected from one infected person – basically how quickly it spreads) of Covid-19 is ∼2.5 whilst the reproduction number of Influenza is only  ∼1.3. Covid-19 is therefore considerable more contagious.

How long does it take someone to show symptoms from the time they are exposed to the virus?

This period of time is known as the incubation period and according to the Ministry of Health Sri Lanka guidelines, it is approximately 2 to 14 days with an average time of 5-6 days for symptom onset from time of exposure.

What should I do if I experience a cough or cold?

In Sri Lanka, the Ministry of health requires ALL patients with Covid-19 to be admitted to hospital, no matter how severe the illness.

If you are experiencing a fever, cough or cold and have either

  • returned to Sri Lanka from ANY COUNTRY within the last 14 days or
  • having close-contact with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient during the last 14 days prior to onset of symptoms or
  • with severe acute pneumonia regardless of travel or contact history as decided by the treating Consultant

then you should call the National hotline 1999. DO NOT go into hospital where you can put others (including healthcare workers) at risk. The 1999 hotline will advice you on further management and send an ambulance if required.

What should I do if I’m experiencing any other severe medical symptoms (e.g. chest pain)?

If you are experiencing any other medical emergencies such as severe chest pain or an asthmatic attack and need urgent medical care – please call 1990 to be connected to the suwaseriya ambulance service who will safely transfer you to the closest hospital.

Can anyone be tested in Sri Lanka for Covid-19?

The test done in Sri Lanka to detect Covid-19 is rt-PCR. As with all investigations, there is a percentage of false positives and false negatives. It is therefore NOT to be used as a screening tool. Hence, only the following individuals are tested:

Those experiencing a fever, cough or cold and have either

  • returned to Sri Lanka from ANY COUNTRY within the last 14 days or
  • having close-contact with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient during the last 14 days prior to onset of symptoms or
  • with severe acute pneumonia regardless of travel or contact history as decided by the treating consultant.

Newer investigations tests are being trialled and will hopefully have a better sensitivity and specificity.


Should I wear a facemask to protect against Covid-19?

Both the CDC and WHO do not recommend the use of facemarks, however I’ve seen many Sri Lankans use face masks, but not all do so correctly. Surgical face masks are meant to be disposed after use. If they become damp or within 6 hours of use, they must be disposed into a clinical waste bin. You should also not touch the front of the facemask once you start wearing it.

If you wear a surgical mask, please do so correctly.

Is any hand rub effective against the Covid-19 virus?

Washing your hands with soap and water (soap breaks down the fatty coating surrounding the virus) whilst maintaining social distancing is the best form of prevention, but if you need to wash your hands with alcohol hand sanitiser, then ensure that it has more 60-70% alcohol.

Can Covid-19 be sexually transmitted?

There is no evidence currently to show that Covid-19 can be transmitted via sexual intercourse. The virus has not been isolated in semen or vaginal secretions.

Can Covid-19 be transmitted via food?

There is no evidence currently to show that the virus is transmitted via food, however it is important to practice good hand hygiene when handling food.

The virus has been isolated in faeces sample in some studies in small amounts, but this is not the main route (face-oral route) by which the disease is spread.

Are antibiotics effective against Covid-19?

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Covid-19 is caused by a virus and hence antibiotics are not effective unless there is a secondary bacterial infection.

Can I get a vaccine to protect against Covid-19?

Currently there is no vaccine available, but one is in human clinical trials and will hopefully be available in 2021.

How can I boost my immune system?

Answer from Mrs. Hana Niyaz (Registered Dietician Nutritionist @healthywith_hana) – Your body has a limited capacity for nutrients. You can strengthen your immunity by eating a balanced meal which includes complex carbohydrates (wholegrains have a positive effect on gut bacteria), legumes, vegetables (garlic, ginger, broccoli and bell pepper) and vitamin C rich fruits.

Elderly individuals who have low muscle mass should take in more protein if there are no contraindications (do not have kidney disease).

It is important to speak to a qualified medical nutritionist with regards to dietary supplements and immune boosters.

If I’m pregnant, will a Covid-19 infection affect my baby?

It is still not certain from the current studies available if the Covid-10 virus is passed via vertical (during delivery) or placental transmission. From the limited number of studies available, there is no increased risk of miscarriage or congenital abnormalities. There has been a slight increase in the incidence of preterm births in Covid-19 +ve patients, but it is not known  if this occurred due to the needs of the mother.

I’m breastfeeding, can I pass the virus onto my baby?

There is no evidence to currently suggest that the virus is transmitted via breast milk.  Breastfeeding contains vital protective factors and should be continued even if the mother is a confirmed Covid-19 positive patient.

Breast feeding mothers should anyway wash their hands before handling the newborns and before breastfeeding. If Covid-19 positive, the mother should wear a mask whilst feeding the baby and continue breastfeeding.

Should I stop taking any of my regular medication (i.e. blood pressure medication)?

There is no indication at all to stop any regular medications unless told to do so by a licensed healthcare professional. If you feel sick whilst taking your regular medication, please seek medical care urgently.


As more clinical studies are being conducted, we will surely learn more about this novel virus and clinical guidance will change. I see so much information being shared – some by clinicians themselves – but it is always important to critically analyse the information been given to you before you re-share – including research studies. Many research studies have many limitations (especially small cohort numbers).

It’s a time of uncertainty. I see my emergency medicine colleagues going into battle on the daily and really do feel for them. If you’re not an essential service worker, please stay at home. Listen to the government guidance to  reduce transmission of this contagious disease and be safe!

I will be continuously updating this page, if you have any queries please do comment below. For more SL Ministry of Health and Medical colleges circulars and publications please check my instagram account.

Useful sources:

  1. World Health Organization
  2. Centre for disease control and prevention
  3. Epidemiology Unit, Ministry of Health Sri Lanka
  4. Health Promotion Bureau, Ministry of Health Sri Lanka
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like

Hi there!

Hi there! Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya is a medical doctor in Sri Lanka, currently training in Family Medicine. Navigating the healthcare system in Sri Lanka is no easy task and this website was created to help guide other foreign medical graduates and junior doctors. This website also helps demystify life as a doctor in Sri Lanka and also combats medical misinformation circulating amongst the general public!