Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, all there is to know and understand this new disease

Coronavirus disease (covid-19) outbreak, all there is to know and understand this new disease picture

What is a coronavirus?

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

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the coronavirus usually include:

  • A dry cough
  • A temperature
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath (in more severe cases)

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:

  • Have you travelled to a high risk area such as China, South Korea or Northern Italy in the last two weeks?
  • Have you been in close contact with someone with coronavirus

How quickly do symptoms emerge?

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.

When should I seek medical help?

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:

  • you think you might have coronavirus
  • in the last 14 days you've been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus
  • you've been in close contact with someone with coronavirus

How to 'self quarantine' if you think you might have coronavirus

If you think you may have the virus,  you should try to isolate or quarantine yourself.

This means you should:

  • Stay at home
  • Avoid work, school and other public areas
  • Avoid public transport and taxis
  • Get friends and family to delivery food, medicines etc rather than going to the shops
  • Discourage visitors

How is the new coronavirus spread and how can I protect myself?

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:

  • Carry a hand sanitiser with you to make frequent cleaning of your hands easy
  • Always wash your hands before you eat or touch your face
  • Be especially careful about touching things and then touching your face in busy airports and other public transport systems
  • Carry disposable tissues with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue carefully (catch it, bin it, kill it)
  • Do not share snacks from packets or bowls that others are dipping their fingers into
  • Avoid shaking hands or cheek kissing if you suspect viruses are circulating
  • Regularly clean not only your hands but also commonly used surfaces and devices you touch or handle.

How can I protect my family, especially children?

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)

What about face masks – do they work?

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.

Can the new coronavirus be treated?

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.

Are some groups of people more at risk than others?

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. 

Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?

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.

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-symptoms-covid-19-how-quickly-show/

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

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