News of the latest coronavirus to come out of China, after the devastating SARS outbreak in 2003, has nations across the globe on high alert. The situation is moving quickly, and as more countries identify infected individuals, concerns of a global pandemic are spurring people around the world to take action.
What is the Coronavirus and How Can I Protect Myself?
The World Health Organisation has officially named the virus itself as SARS-CoV-2, while the disease caused by the virus, and the name most recognisable to the public, is COVID-19. The epicentre has also been identified as Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province in Central China.
Here, we look at the current situation and explain what COVID-19 entails, as well as offering a few sensible tips to protect yourself and others while the outbreak continues to spread.
What is a Coronovirus and Where does COVID-19 Fit In?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that present flu-like and respiratory symptoms, in the worse case scenarios they can also lead to more severe illnesses such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress.
Like the influenza virus, the viral nature of a coronavirus means that antibiotics are ineffective for treatment, and much depends on an individual’s existing immune system. However, the use of compatible antivirals which can be used to treat patients with viral pneumonia caused by flu is now being explored with COVID-19 patients.
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that has never been encountered before. It is suspected that it was transmitted by animals to humans at the Huanan wholesale market in Wuhan. Human to human transmission has enabled the virus to spread beyond Wuhan and into other countries. Much of the concern surrounding the virus has stemmed from its novel and unique form. As time goes on, scientists are learning more about the virus and how best to treat it, including working on a vaccine.
What are the Symptoms and Incubation Period of COVID-19?
According to Harvard Medical, the incubation period of COVID-19 is still relatively unclear, however, current estimates suggest that symptoms will appear within around five days or less, but with the potential for symptoms to appear between one and 14 days.
Like many other coronaviruses, COVID-19 manifests itself in flu-like symptoms to begin with. Fever, a dry cough, and breathing difficulties are common, and while there have also been reports of gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle soreness and fatigue preceding respiratory symptoms, COVID-19 is largely a respiratory disease.
Asymptomatic contraction of the virus is also a possibility, and asymptomatic carriers also present the possibility of spreading COVID-19. To date, however, it is unclear as to the extent of asymptomatic transmission,
Who is Most at Risk from COVID-19?
While it’s possible that anyone may contract COVID-19, to-date, the majority of cases have been recorded in those aged 30 to 79. The most severe cases have been in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions. For the vast majority of people, taking the usual precautions you would when you have the flu will allow you to recover without complications. A relatively small number of infants and children have been infected and to date the cases we’ve seen have been mild. While it appears that children are a low risk demographic for complications at present, they can still transfer the virus to others.
At this point, it is unknown exactly how contagious COVID-19 is, and this is among the reasons that the WHO has declared the outbreak to be an international public health emergency rather than a pandemic. Generally speaking, viruses that spread easily carry less impact, leading to less severe illnesses and deaths across large populations. The WHO sees the global spread of COVID-19 as a worrying but not unexpected development.
How Can I Protect Myself and Others from COVID-19?
As with any type of virus, protection and prevention are the best forms of medicine. While scientists are still assessing how the virus spreads and how to treat it, taking similar precautions as you might when trying to avoid influenza is essential. Please keep in mind that coronavirus is not the same as the flu and has a higher mortality rate.
The virus may be spread in the following ways:
Coughing and Sneezing are known to spread viruses through respiratory droplets and particles. These tiny droplets of saliva or mucus can be inhaled or picked up on the hands.
Viruses may also be spread from surfaces to humans. This very much depends on how long any particular virus can survive outside the human body. COVID-19 has been known to survive on surfaces for longer than the influenza virus according to results published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
Transfer of saliva or contact with fecal matter from an infected person is likely to spread the virus. Closing the toilet lid when flushing can help prevent spread of particles.
Protecting yourself and others from contracting the virus is also extremely important. The number of people affected at present is relatively low, but if we do not take strict precautions it could become far more widespread and impact many more people. These impacts go beyond people getting sick, we’re also seeing a strain on resources, healthcare services, as well as logistic and economic impacts.
Both inside and outside of the home, personal hygiene, proper cleaning and sanitisation are crucial. The use of masks in confined public spaces is advised for people who are most at risk of severe complications; the elderly, immunocompromised, or those with underlying health conditions.
Ways to Reduce the Spread of Viruses including COVID-19:
Appropriate Hand Hygiene – Regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with hot water and soap will help limit the spread of viruses while offering increased protection for you. Using alcohol based hand sanitiser or wipes can also help when you cannot access washing facilities.
Appropriate Respiratory Hygiene – If you cough or sneeze, ensure you cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow. Carefully dispose of any tissues you use.
Avoid Touching Eyes, Nose, and Mouth – Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands as this can help transfer the virus more easily.
Disinfecting Surfaces – Cleaning your home or office with appropriate disinfectants can help minimise the spread of viruses.
Wear a Mask – Particularly if you are at risk of complications, wearing a face mask may reduce your chances of becoming infected. It also helps prevent the spread of viruses from people who are infected by minimising respiratory particles, saliva and mucus being expelled from the mouth and nose.
Isolation and Social Distancing – Wherever possible maintain at least a meter from yourself to other people. If you believe you or someone close to you is infected, isolate yourself to minimise the chances of infection. Avoiding mass public gatherings is advised.
The above precautions are highly important, not only to protect yourself and your family, but also to reduce the the risks of infecting someone who could have more severe complications from a virus like COVID-19. We can and should all do our part for the sake of maintaining good public health.
What Should I Do If I Believe I Have Covid-19?
Each country has its own set of guidelines on what to do if you believe you have COVID-19. Currently, the US government advises on pre-booking an appointment with your doctor if you believe you are suffering from the virus in order to be correctly diagnosed.
If you are in general good health, then taking the above mentioned precautions and avoiding contact with others to limit the spread is the best advice.
- D Korobov