Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the jump to humans, but most just cause common cold-like symptoms. The new virus, officially known as Covid-19, is also more dangerous than the common cold
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the coronavirus usually include:
Some patients may have "aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea", the WHO adds. "These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell".
These symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases including flu and the common cold. So if you have symptoms, consider the following:
Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after contracting the virus, but it may be up to 24 days.
Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, around one out of every six people (16 per cent) becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.
Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, lung complaints or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention quickly.
But you should not go out. Instead, you should call NHS 111. Also call NHS 111 if:
This means you should:
Hand hygiene is the first and most important line of defence.
Like cold and flu bugs, the new virus is spread via droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets land on surfaces and are picked up on the hands of others and spread further. People catch the virus when they touch their infected hands to their mouth, nose or eyes.
It follows that the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitising gel.
Also try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands – something we all do unconsciously on average about 15 times an hour.
Other tips include:
Children are a major vector for the spread of droplet-based viruses because they interact physically so much with each other and are not the best at keeping themselves clean.
The virus appears to impact older people more commonly but children can be infected and they can get severe illness, the government warns.
However, you can greatly lower the risk that children pose of spreading or catching viruses by:
Explaining to them how germs spread and the importance of good hand and face hygiene
Keeping household surfaces clean, especially kitchens, bathrooms, door handles and light switches
Using clean or disposable cloths to wipe surfaces so you don't transfer germs from one surface to another
Giving everyone their own towel and making sure they know not to share toothbrushes etc
Keep your home dry and airy (bugs thrive in musty environments)
Paper face masks are not recommended by Public Health England, the NHS or other major health authorities for ordinary citizens, and with good reason.
They are ill-fitting and what protection they might initially provide soon expires. Worse, they quickly become moist inside, providing the perfect environment for germs to thrive in. They also become a hazard for others if carelessly discarded.
An exception to this would be if you were displaying symptoms such as coughing or sneezing – then a mask may help prevent you spreading the virus to others in busy locations.
Read more on face masks here.
There is no simple cure for the new coronavirus, just as there is no cure for the common cold.
In the vast majority of cases, the disease is only mild. Symptoms such as fever and general discomfort can be treated with aspirin and ibuprofen, or packaged cold and flu remedies containing the same.
It is in more severe cases, where pneumonia develops, that the danger lies. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics and, for the moment at least, there are no antivirals specific to this particular virus.
Instead doctors focus on supporting patients' lung function as best they can.They may be given oxygen or placed on a breathing machine (ventilator) in the most severe cases.
Other symptoms such as fever and discomfort will be treated using drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Secondary infections may be treated with antibiotics.
Data from China suggests that people of all ages are at risk of contracting the virus, although older people are more likely to develop serious illness.
People with a reduced chance of surviving pneumonia include:
Those over age 65
Children under the age of two
People with underlying health conditions or a weakened immune system
Of the first 425 confirmed deaths across mainland China, 80 per cent were in people over the age of 60, and 75 per cent had some form of underlying disease.
There is currently no vaccine, but scientists around the world are racing to produce one thanks to China's prompt sharing of the virus's genetic code.
However, any potential vaccine will not be available for up to a year and would be most likely to be given to health workers most at risk of contracting the virus first. In addition, researchers in China believe that the virus may have mutated into two strains, one of which is highly aggressive, making a search for a vaccine more difficult.
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